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Burson Audio V5 Series Opamp Review

Opening Thoughts: To start with, I want to run down the signal chain for my audio out. I am running a highly modded Creative ZXR with a DC capacitor mod (direct coupled) and four Analog Device op-amps for the front channels (ADA4627-1BRZ) in the ZXR which uses a two stage arrangement (see below). The op-amps are not that relevant since I am using the ZXR solely for its DAC (digital-to-analog converter) and then essentially a line out to a Little Bear P5-1 Preamp utilizing NOS Date Matched Pair GE 5 STAR 5654 Gray Plate Tubes. Then to a FiiO E12 DIY edition headphone amplifier utilizing a Burson V5-OPA-D (currently) with the E12 chassis held by an electronics vise to accommodate the size of the Burson op-amp!

All of my interconnections (wiring) utilize Canare L-4E6S RCA cables (ZXR to P5-1 & PF-1 to Magni 2 backup amp) and Canare L-4E6S RCA to 3.5mm stereo (PF-1 to E12 DIY); all made by Ghent Audio out of China (excellent quality for the price, been using them for years). All of this is going to a set of Audeze EL-8 planar magnetic open-backs that have set a new bar for me in terms of “reference sound.” I also have a Schiit Audio Magni 2 headphone amplifier available to compare with if needed. I will be using Foobar2000 w/ DSD to PCM capabilities with foo_input_sacd and Power-DVD 16 Ultra for movies with WASAPI capable outputs features for both software packages. (See end of review for full PC specs)


(I have illustrated each channel’s signal path from DAC to output.)

I am grateful to Burson Audio for allowing me to do this review and hooking me up with multiple pairs of their V5 series op-amps (OPA-S, OPA-D, V5i-D, V5i-S). Even more reviews are to come down the road, engineering permitting! This is exciting for me, as I will have a chance to run an all V5-OPA op-amp setup on my Creative ZXR and then try out their newest cable technology! (See Burson Audio Cable+ Here) I am just in awe, as it already sounds like Susan Tedeschi is singing in my bedroom through Audeze’s “Fluxor™ Magnetic Technology.” At only 30 ohms, this reasonable impedance value allows you to listen to the EL-8 open-backs on almost any device! They sound great on my laptop, but you can hear a huge difference when giving it a proper amplifier. Thanks to Burson for setting me up with a pair for such a steal.
Audeze EL-8 2
Fluxor Magnetic Circuit
Notes:

· See audio terms list at end of review for technical definitions.

· You cannot fit either the V5i or the V5-OPA-D into the E12 for normal use; this is only possible while doing a bench-top test or using a custom E12 housing. The Op-amps are too large/tall.

Dual V5-OPA Pic Only

(Although I wasn’t able to use this setup during the review, I wanted to show the readers what it looks like to run all V5-OPA’s in the ZXR.)

Part 1: Testing Begins!

Burson V5i Exposed

(Burson Audio’s V5i-D exposed PCB)

 

Burson V5-OPA Exposed

(Burson Audio’s V5-OPA-D exposed PCB)

I am starting with our setup mentioned previously because I know this configuration on my sound card the best (most hours) and I know it is free of static or hum. The ZXR sound-card is very high fidelity using this op-amp and DC modification setup, but now after working with Burson Audio, I have a new opinion of what high fidelity is! I am trying their newest (most expensive) OPA op-amps and a pair of their V5i-Ds. The V5i are much smaller at about 1/3 the height the OPA series. In my time trying out literally dozens of op-amps from companies like Analog Devices, Burr Brown, TI, MUSE, etc. I have noticed certain characteristics that are specific to the V5i-D and V5-OPA-D, which I will go into detail in the following pages/paragraphs.

 

The biggest thing I noticed about the V5i was how accurate and snappy the audio is, excellent for movies and bass tempo oriented music really pops. It’s worth pointing out now, this V5i design is excellent for games on PC.

Now we are going to walk into a different level of design, discrete V5 series (OPA) design by Burson Audio. The V5-OPA op-amps are jaw dropping through the setup previously mentioned. OPAs are so transient and far-reaching in their frequency response, airy, but refined. The top-end roll-off is one of the better if not the best I have heard to date on the ZXr. The bass, some will say is not the best out of the bunch, but for me it is accurate and punchy. This is what I am looking for in bass personally, not so much in decibels.

 

I would call the V5i slightly bright, but not in a bad way. They are bright in the way a set of Infinity “Reference” speakers are bright, compared to the Infinity “Kappa” series. It is a pleasant change for most listeners when talking about op-amps and audio, some of this has to do with presence variation (how close the audio feels to your ears). Imaging on the V5i’s is nearly unmatched by my other op-amp samples (see full list at end of review), I used these while playing video games, I was very impressed. Separation of left to right is especially important for gaming and I would recommend the V5i for this characteristic. When you jump from the V5-OPA to the V5i you notice the sound-stage shrink, but you notice an increase in bass.

 

If you solely want bass I would look at other op-amps, I am not saying that these do not have good bass, I just know others have more bass than these at a much lower cost. I really like the bass of these V5i’s and probably prefer the imaging and bass of the V5i’s to the V5-OPA. The V5i sounds seem closer to your ears, also called presence.

Characteristics touted of op-amps are always in the eye of the person using them. Trying to give an honest review is tough because I will always prefer some characteristics in the sound that you may not. I try to point out general thoughts/observations on the sound characteristics as I go from op-amp to op-amp. This is to try to give you some relatable information for making your choice from the available options out there.

(Burson V5-OPA-D dimensions)

The V5-OPA-D is one of the most open
and airy op-amps I have ever come across. The OPA series by Burson is a discrete transistor-to-transistor based design (with a few resistors/caps), impressive on many fronts. The sparkle on the top-end is unmatched to me, as I have never had a discrete transistor-to-transistor op-amp setup before. I am comparing these 1.14” op-amps to ones 1/3 that size or smaller, in a DIP-8 package usually. This is new territory for me, one that I am happy to unearth.
Jumping back to the V5i-D: from Burson, I have to say the mid-range is excellent and guitar solos are good enough to give you chills. Somehow, Burson figured out a way to create a very organic sound in a small package! When you look closely at the image below, you will see the V5i is two separate single-DIP op-amps stacked on each other. This should result in better SNR & THD if nothing else when compared to a Dual-DIP op-amp. Listening to Aretha Franklin through DSD files puts you into a different world. A time when gasoline was $0.25 or less and people left their doors and windows open at night in the summer.

Aretha Franklin “Since You’ve Been Gone” DSD64: this really showed me the frequency range the V5i-D has, that treble range and then roll off is spot on! I do not find the treble harsh and it has a sparkle that reminds me of a tube amp on the top end.

 

Aretha Franklin “The House That Jack Built” DSD64: if this does not make you tap your foot with a pair of EL-8’s on your head then you had better check your pulse. The transfer to SACD and then to DSD is not perfect, there is some floor noise/hum in the recording. However, you find Aretha there, in a raw, untouched form. Offering a sonic range only a SACD/DSD can deliver. I do think that 192 kHz/ 24-bit FLAC is nearly the same, but there are some subtle differences.

 

Lenny Kravitz “Sister” 192kHz / 24-bit FLAC: this recording has a purposely-inserted tape noise by the studio; you really notice it when you have a pair of planar magnetic headphones on your head. Question, is it good to have 1.5 Tesla surrounding your head on both sides? The EL-8 have permanent magnets inside and cannot be near a pacemaker due to this. Back to the recording, this is impressive to say the least. The vocal realism and detail insane. The combination of acoustic and electric guitar makes this one of my favorite Kravitz titles. The V5i proves well in the bass department with this track. The sound stage feels perfectly balanced and the attack is spot on with a transparency I have never before experienced until now. The sturdiness of the V5i really shines in this specific track and this is where many other op-amps fade off. Based on this, I would also recommend the V5i for jazz and bluegrass; two genres I listen to personally.

 

Lenny Kravitz “Are You Gonna Go My Way” 192kHz / 24-bit FLAC: The bass is exactly what I want for this song and the guitar is raw/mean. I am coming to the realization that the V5i is suited very well for guitar solos, what I consider the holy grail of rock and roll. Now I am going to shift to the V5-OPA from Burson and see what notices I change.

When I inserted the V5-OPA I noticed an immediate drop in how forward the guitar was in the sound stage while vocals were present. This just shows how two op-amps place the tracks slightly differently. Then it went into a guitar solo and I find myself surrounded by what used to be one of the best guitarists touring the USA. The sound-stage shines once again and I am blown away by the performance of this op-amp in comparison to other very good offerings such as a MUSE01!

 

I shift back to Lenny Kravitz “Sister” 192kHz / 24-bit FLAC: to see what changes I notice in the title. Firstly, the inserted tape sound is far less annoying/bright before the main vocals begin. This shows me a better tonal balance of loud vs. quiet signals. The difference I find with the OPA is now I can hear the emotion in Kravitz’s voices. The bass then pours out and I change my opinion on the V5-OPA’s reach with respect to bass. I find the OPA bass to be tight and thick, two characteristics that are hard to find with the other characteristics of this op-amp (sparkle and airy). Burson set out to create the best of the best with their V5-OPA design and at this point, I think they nailed it.

 

 Aretha Franklin “People Get Ready” 192 kHz / 24-bit FLAC: V5i in the E12 here really brings out the vocal notes and the treble is smooth without the vocals being too forward. There is enough detail to hear each breathe between stretches of sonic onslaught as Aretha leaves it all on the stage. Aretha never fails to deliver, no matter the op-amp, but the V5i really shines on this track.

 

 Flipping to the V5-OPA-D to spot differences between the two and it becomes apparent immediately. Aretha has this newly found texture to her voice that reminds me of being in church and I can once again hear instruments in the sound-stage I had never heard before. Aretha seems to jump immediately to the front of the sound stage and the sparkle on the top end shines through in this track for the OPA. The combination of the V5-OPA-D and the new EL-8 open-backs literally open a door for a “heavenly-audio” closing by this great artist during the last 30 seconds of the song. I am in complete shock that a portable amplifier like the E12 can deliver such sonic quality, especially using a simple tube pre-amp.

 

 Sister Hazel “World Inside My Head” 44.1kHz / 16-bit FLAC: I am using the V5-OPAs to start with and this is a song I know very well, but haven’t listened to yet with planar magnetic headphones. It is a live recording, so the openness of the OPAs is able to shine with precision sound placement accomplished flawlessly. The bass in this track is not that loud, but the OPAs provide a tight, kicker sub sound that I enjoy. The mid-range finds a balance with high notes and guitar riffs; it all seems to flow in harmony. I give the OPA an A+ on this track. I will be curious to see how the V5i compares. I flip back to the beginning of the track with the OPAs to hear the vocals once more and I notice detail never before heard as I close my eyes and focus on the sound. Now to the V5i!

(Variety of Op-Amps from Burson, Burr Brown, AD, TI, MUSE, etc.)

I notice a slight drop in the audience background noise to begin with, probably due to the sound-stage size. The treble is a little bit bright compared to the OPAs, but not so much that it is harsh, just brighter. The sound-stage again shrinks in comparison to its big brother, but considering the physical size of the V5i, the stage is still big enough for my needs. The issue comparing the stages is that the V5i sounds a tad muddy when you swap back to the OPA. It is not that the V5i is actually muddy; it is just that the OPAs are that open/airy and extraordinary pieces of hardware! The V5i series is also a formidable opponent in the world of op-amps due to its more normal form factor and excellent sonic quality.

 

 Shifting to Films: Using the V5i-D: I immediately noticed the transient response (“snap”) during a live action film. Snap is the speed by which the op-amp delivers the immediacy of live instruments or in this case, a film soundtrack. Without a good transient response, the sound will be smeared and have less left to right separation. Too much snap and you end up with harshness (especially on the top end), due to thin bass and a steely sound signature.

 

 I jump back to the V5-OPA-D and notice in some of the vintage audio such as a JFK speech in an Apollo film, the vocals are textured, but also transient. This gives a signature that separates it from its smaller brother the V5i-D. Continuing with the Burson OPA I find channel separation to be spot on with tight bass, but also a sparkle on the treble end that I have only heard in a discrete op-amp. The MUSE01 has some sparkle, but it is not like the V5-OPA in the slightest. I have a 4x ADA4627-1BRZ setup that was my main setup. The V5i-D I can say does compete with the Analog Devices setup, but the V5-OPA blows it away on all fronts.

 

I have around two years with the Analog Device setup mentioned, but as soon as I heard the Burson V5 series I knew I was about to change my setup up based on my initial testing. I find the width of the sound-stage in the OPA series stunning. It has surgical precision with regard to placing the sound throughout the immense stage seemingly available to it. I go back to the V5i and listen to a launch of Apollo 11 in Dolby Digital 2.0. Compared to the V5-OPA, the V5i has a better attack and some may find the sound-stage more pleasing compared to the OPA. I can compare it like this, as I have said before, the V5-OPA is very airy and open, presenting you with a very natural, almost vinyl/tube-era sound. The V5i is a more modern sound, with a more forward sounding mid-range and treble. The bass is deeper, though not as tight as the OPA at times. The V5i has the presence dial turned up more than the V5-OPA does overall and the V5-OPA series has the sparkle dial turned up over the V5i series.

 

 I find the V5i as a no-brainer upgrade to a MUSE01/02; as I switch back and forth from the V5i to the MUSE01. The sound-stage shrinks, the treble loses sparkle, and the frequency response isn’t as wide as the V5i. The V5i overall is a very impressive op-amp that I can without a doubt recommend if you have the cash and the room to fit it. The V5i is about twice as high as a normal op-amp due to the metal housing (see above). If you are looking at a MUSE01 at DigiKey it will likely be $100 or more to get it to your house and the V5i is in that range. For this reason, I recommend the V5i to this category of shopper because it is superior in almost all regard to sound-stage and especially the mid-range. If you prefer a wider and more analog sound, I would recommend the V5-OPA but you need over 1.14” of space (height).

 

Concerning the OPA series: I love this series, easily the best sounding op-amps I have ever had the pleasure of testing. When I jump from other op-amps, including the V5i series, I feel this tingle in my spine with the OPAs during select songs. This may be due to the new EL-8s, but I believe it is the sparkle and airiness along with the OPA utilizing a huge sound-stage to deliver a sonic experience next to none in my book. Between Audeze’s EL-8 and Burson Audio’s V5 series of op-amps, I will be in sonic heaven for a long time to come.

 

I hope you have enjoyed my review (so far) of the V5 series and other various op-amps. Please see the YouTube video if you are reading this on a forum or some other form of social media. You should be able to find a link at the bottom of the review. I have taped output from my 100 MHz oscilloscope with a CRT panel, using a Samsung NX3000 w/ a 50-200mm lens and a 10x magnification filter! I have overlay the V5i over the V5-OPA signal to see if we can spot any visual differences to give us hard data.

Burson V5 Oscilloscope Comparison:

Part 2: Op-Amp Run Down!

 Now I am going to cycle through the op-amps listed below and give my thoughts on audible changes going from one op-amp sample to the next on the same tracks at the same volume level with nothing touched except the op-amps themselves. I will do my best to use a variety of audio types from song genres to PC games with high fidelity (192/24+) sound in order to give a full picture of just what changes I notice. Strap in, here we go!

 

2x OPA 604AU vs. 1x Burson V5i Film: The OPA 604AU has a deeper thump to its bass, but the sound-stage shrinks considerably and the highs roll off is much steeper and sooner heading towards the higher frequencies of the spectrum. Things like wind and dripping water don’t stand out like they did with the V5i. The OPA 604AU is not nearly as snappy as the V5i and comes off a little muddy in direct comparison. There is a lack of texture with the 604AUs when I go back to the V5i I notice this. The sound-stage is definitely not as large in the 604AU and the sound placement lacks because of this, leading to a muddy signature when going against the V5i directly.

 

The 604AU is a heck of an op-amp I recently purchased ten of them for a project on my ZXR where I will be upgrading the surface-mount stock ones with for their “analog” sound. Note I didn’t mention that when swapping with the V5i, this is because the V5i has an analog quality to it superior to the 604AU. This is a Burr-Brown creation from Texas Instruments so we know it’s a high performance op-amp and I picked it because of my experience with it.

E12 rig

(V5i being tested, you can see the 3.5mm Y-cable in the output of the E12 amp.)

 For now, the review has to end here… I thought at first I had a faulty op-amp, but after more testing it seems my FiiO E12 DIY edition is no longer outputting sound. I have tried a variety of sources with and without pre-amps, nothing will output sound. Not even a line out from my Aune T1 DAC to the E12 would work. I tried with both my Audeze EL-8s, SoundMagic HP150s and Shure SE425s nothing can detect any output at all, not even noise/hiss/hum. I am in contact with FiiO now and I will let you all know if I find out anything important about how I did my op-amp rolling, maybe that damaged the unit. On the other hand, if I can fix it I will let you all know what it took.

Operational Amplifiers Used (1x = Dual DIP Op-Amp | 2x = Single DIP Op-Amp)

· 1x Burson V5i
· 1x Burson V5-OPA-D
· 1x MUSE01
· 2x AD797A
· 2x OPA 1611
· 1x AD8620
· 2x OPA 604AU

· 2x AD 4627

FiiO E12 DIY Voltage Reading (Pin-8 = Vcc) with Burson V5-OPA-D installed = 22.34V

Audio Terms Definitions:

· Airy: Spacious. Open. Instruments sound like they are surrounded by a large reflective space full of air. Good reproduction of high frequency reflections. High frequency response extends to 15 or 20 kHz.

· Attack: The leading edge of a note and the ability of a system to reproduce the attack transients in music.

· Bright: A sound that emphasizes the upper midrange/lower treble. Harmonics are strong relative to fundamentals.

· DSD: Direct-Stream Digital (DSD) is the trademark name used by Sony and Philips for their system of digitally recreating audible signals for the Super Audio CD (SACD). DSD uses pulse-density modulation encoding—a technology to store audio signals on digital storage media that are used for the SACD.

· Fidelity: the degree of exactness with which something is copied or reproduced.

· FLAC 192/24: FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) is an audio coding format for lossless compression of digital audio, and is the name of the reference codec implementation. Digital audio compressed by FLAC’s algorithm can typically be reduced to 50–60% of its original size and decompress to an identical copy of the original audio data. 192/24 refers to 192 Khz and 24-bit recording, near the upper limit of FLAC. This offers near studio quality playback at home or on the go.

· Frequency Range: See Roll Off

· Harsh: Grating, abrasive. Too much upper midrange. Peaks in the frequency response between 2 and 6 kHz. Or, excessive phase shift in a digital recorder’s low pass filter.

· Hum: The sound often has heavy harmonic content above 50–60 Hz. Because of the presence of mains current in mains-powered audio equipment as well as ubiquitous AC electromagnetic fields from nearby appliances and wiring, 50/60 Hz electrical noise can get into audio systems, and is heard as mains hum from their speakers.

· Imaging: The sense that a voice or instrument is in a particular place in the room.

· Muddy: Not clear. Weak harmonics, smeared time response, I.M. distortion.

· Open: Sound which has height and “air”, relates to clean upper mid-range and treble.

· Organic: A term I use to combine texture, transience, and realism.

· Planar magnetic: Planar magnetic transducers typically consist of two main components: a diaphragm with circuit and magnet arrays. The “planar” in planar magnetics refers to the magnetic field that is distributed in the same plane (parallel) to the diaphragm. Planar magnetic diaphragms are thin and lightweight compared to much heavier moving-coil or dome diaphragms found in “dynamic” drivers. This thin diaphragm is suspended in the magnetic fields created by the magnetic arrays.

· Presence: A sense that the instrument in present in the listening room. Synonyms are edge, punch, detail, closeness, and clarity. Adequate or emphasized response around 5 kHz for most instruments, or around 2 to 5 kHz for kick drum and bass.

· Punchy: Good reproduction of dynamics. Good transient response, with strong impact. Sometimes a bump around 5 kHz or 200 Hz.

· Range: The distance between the lowest and highest tones.

· Roll-Off: The gradual attenuation that occurs at the lower or upper frequency range of a driver, network, or system. The roll-off frequency is the frequency where response is reduced by around 3 dB.

· Snap: A system with good speed and transient response can deliver the immediacy or “snap” of live instruments.

· Snappy: A system with good speed and transient response can deliver the immediacy or “snap” of live instruments.

· SNR: Signal-to-noise ratio (abbreviated SNR or S/N) is a measure used in science and engineering that compares the level of a desired signal to the level of background noise. It is defined as the ratio of signal power to the noise power, often expressed in decibels.

· Sound-stage: The area between two speakers that appears to the listener to be occupied by sonic images. Like a real stage, a sound-stage should have width, depth, and height.

· Sparkle: Refers to the way in which the highest frequencies are perceived/reproduced. In a tube amplifier, you may have a sparkle control knob to dial in the setting, the way you would your presence control. I believe the airiness of the op-amp plays a role in the sparkle.

· Static: crackling or hissing noises on a telephone, radio, or other telecommunications system.

· Sturdiness: Solid, powerful, robust sound.

· Texture: A perceptible pattern or structure in reproduced sound.

· THD: The total harmonic distortion, or THD, of a signal is a measurement of the harmonic distortion present and is defined as the ratio of the sum of the powers of all harmonic components to the power of the fundamental frequency.

· Top-End: Refers to the highest frequencies, usually 5 kHz and higher.

· Transient: Good transient response makes the sound as a whole, more live, and realistic. The leading edge of a percussive sound.

· Transparency: Easy to hear into the music, detailed, clear, not muddy. Wide flat frequency response, sharp time response, very low distortion and noise. A hear through quality that is akin to clarity and reveals all aspects of detail.

· WASAPI: The Windows Audio Session API (WASAPI) enables client applications to manage the flow of audio data between the application and an audio endpoint device. Every audio stream is a member of an audio session.

References:

Aretha Franklin – Since You’ve Been Gone: http://www.sa-cd.net/showtitle/9233

Aretha Franklin – The House That Jack Built: http://www.sa-cd.net/showtitle/9233

Lenny Kravitz – Are You Gonna Go My Way: http://www.hdtracks.com/are-you-gonna-go-my-way-317728

Aretha Franklin – People Get Ready: http://www.hdtracks.com/lady-soul-133862

Sister Hazel World Inside My Head: https://www.amazon.com/Lift-SISTER-HAZEL/dp/B0002IQMUM

Full PC Specs:

ASRock-OC-Formula-5-(1-of-1)

(“Saturn-VIII”)
CPU: Intel i7 3770K @ 4.6 GHz
GPU: MSI GTX 1070 Armor @ 2.14 GHz / 9.624 Gbps (45C Max Temp)
Display: HTC Vive + Viewsonic XG2703-GS 27”
Motherboard: ASRock Z77 OC Formula
RAM: Corsair Vengeance Pro DDR3 2400 4x8GB
SSD: Samsung 850 EVO 500GB + Samsung 840 Pro 128GB
PSU: Corsair HX 750W 80+ Silver (62A)
UPS: Cyberpower CP1500AVRLCD (900W)
OS: Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64
Cooling: Corsair 650D + TT Water2.0 Pro + Corsair H110 + Corsair 2x SP120

2 thoughts on “Burson Audio V5 Series Opamp Review Leave a comment

    • Thank you for such kind words on my first published hi-fi hardware review!

      Be sure to check out my upcoming review of Burson Audio’s Cable+ (RCA-to-RCA) and their full V5-OPA line (2x OPA-S + 2x OPA-D) review. THEN I will be doing a direct comparison of the V5-OPA line to Orange Amplfiicaton’s new discrete op-amps (along with a full review of their op-amp) since Orange just came on board with me!

      These are my projects on the production line for the next 2-3 months and I will be utilizing tools that allow me to measure things like THD, SNR, Freq Response, etc. so the next review should be even more quantitative! Keep an eye out!

      Like

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