Burson Audio is based in
The PRE-160 is housed in an attractive shiny, silver, rectangular cabinet measuring about 17 wide, 4 high, and 14 inches deep. This is a pretty basic preamplifier, sporting only three unbalanced RCA inputs and a pair of unbalanced RCA outputs. The front panel has only two controls: volume and selector along with its push-button on/off switch. As with its matching PP-160 amplifier the only display on the front panel is the blue power indicator.
The relatively compact PP-160 puts out 95 Watts per channel into 8 Ohms (160 into 4 Ohms) and is housed in the nearly identical to the preamp, rather non-descript, but attractive shiny, silver, with a 17 inch wide, 4 inch high, and 14 inch deep rectangular square-edged cabinet. Its rather hefty 33 pound weight indicated that they aren't kidding about the substantial custom built low-noise torroidal transformers and other power supply goodies that they've packed into its cabinet. On its rear panel are unbalanced RCA inputs and fairly heavy-duty speaker lugs and an IEC socket for the removable AC cord.
At first I was going to critically dissect the sound of either the amp or preamp, then move on to the other, but after a while that seemed pointless -- the preamplifier and amplifier both exhibited almost exactly the same sonic characteristics. I could have copied and pasted the text of the sonic description of one to the other and it wouldn't matter very much. Although the amp or the preamp mated better with some other makes and models of components better than others, they without a doubt performed best when used together. That shouldn't be that surprising, really. But it is worth mentioning that I was shocked how well the 95 wpc PP-160 drove a large pair of electrostatic speakers. I used the amp in the smaller system for quite some time before moving it upstairs to the main system, and was sort of carrying this out as a my duty as a conscientious reviewer more than anything else, thinking that it would be unfair to put the amp in that kind of, well, compromising position. So, despite my initial misgivings, it ended up residing in the main system for quite some time because there wasn't any point when I thought I was reaching the limits of the amp, and heard no clipping or other hints of strain at any time, and most importantly it sounded very, very good. No, the Burson amplifier didn't have the transient snap, or the overall control and power as the resident 250 Wpc amp, but one wouldn't really expect it to. Since the main system was full-range and had a much better front-end, which included but was not limited to a Basis/Tri-Planar/Lyra analog rig connected to either a Pass Labs or Rossner & Sohn phono preamp, and a digital set-up using the impressive Acousticbuoy DAC, my comments regarding the Burson's sound were mostly (but not completely) in regards to how it sounded in this system.
On the timeless Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique with Charles Munch conducting the BSO on the Classic Records' Living Stereo LP reissue, although the overall sound leaned slightly toward slightly burnished in the highest treble, the Burson gear sounded what can only be summed up as "natural" sounding, that is, instruments emanating from the speakers sounded like the real thing playing in a real space -- and yes, this is the highest praise I can bestow on a piece of audio equipment. Although there was a slight rise in the mid-bass and it was ever so slightly underdamped, the deep bass was extraordinary, and bass drum whacks on side two of this oft played record shook the room. The low frequencies went as deep as my system allowed, and moreover, the lower strings remained pitch stable throughout the climaxes of the piece in the last two hallucinatory movements. The rest of the strings were as lush as I would expect from this slab of wax, and during the "March to the Scaffolds" when they are played with the wood of their bows the sound separates itself from the rest of the orchestra and sounds as menacing as Berlioz doubtlessly intended.
But let's put natural sound aside for a while. Led Zeppelin's The Way The West Was One is one of the best "live" rock albums that have ever been released. "Live" is in quotes because it is pretty obvious, to at least me that this album has logged quite a few hours in post-production, not changing the actual events as they happened, per se, but to the sound of the original tapes. But this hardly matters, especially if one considers that even the best rock recordings can hardly be considered archetypes of reality, especially when it comes to portraying aspects such as what would be considered a natural soundstage, as spectacular as it might end up being portrayed on the final product. The massive wall-of-sound that spewed forth from the speakers as soon as the first notes of "Immigrant Song" slammed into the air sounded like the coming of the apocalypse (albeit in a good way). My listening notes continued to read like an early 1970s issue of Creem Magazine, so I'll just paraphrase and just say that it sounded like pure rock ‘n' roll bombast that was expertly transferred to the speakers by the Burson equipment, mainly because it didn't editorialize the signal, simply passing onto the speakers what the producers and engineers intended. The bass guitar (and even the lead guitar at times) had enough low end heft to shake the room, and combined with John Bonham's thunderous drumming it might not have sounded as if one was at the show (and that's a good thing, since I've never been at an arena show that sounded this good), but it sounded awesome, that's for sure.
I let a few days go by before I played another rock CD, this
time a mellower affair, Bryan Ferry's Taxi
album, where he covers diverse bunch of tunes including the Gerry Goffin and
Carole King chestnut "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" in Ferry's singular,
rather urbane style. Again, this cut displayed the Burson's bass prowess by
digging deep and effortlessly, easily reproducing the lowest notes of the
five-string bass. This album was certainly not the best selection to judge a
piece of gear's transient response given that every instrument, including
One of the best CDs I heard while the Burson gear was in my system had to be a disc of works by Claude Debussy with Simon Rattle conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. This 2005 release is a wonderful sounding disc, not only because of its excellent recording quality but because of the ravishing performance of the Berlin PO players. It is quite understandable if his interpretation of Le Mer on this disc isn't on the top of your list (I noted 130 versions of this work on Arkivmusic.com), sound quality-wise it should be a top contender for those recorded digitally. But that might be beside the point when one considers the marvelous job the Burson equipment did in transferring its top-notch sound into my listening room. The honeyed sound of the high-pitched percussion that includes cymbals, triangle and glockenspiel, plus the upper-most harmonics of the strings added to the suspension of disbelief that sometimes occurred, sometimes only for a split-second, but enough to at least feel that I was viewing a sonic model of the actual event. The lush strings combined with the Burson's low-end weight and uncolored sound made the piece all that much more enjoyable.
One more thing in case you were wondering: I didn't have too much information regarding the use of the PP-160 amplifier as a "booster". But I'd be remiss in at least trying it out, so I hooked up a 6 Wpc JohnBlue tube amp's speaker outputs to the speaker binding-post inputs of the PP-160 with a run of short Cardas speaker cable. The level of transparency that both these amps are capable wasn't exhibited when them together. To the PP-160s credit it did indeed boost the meager Wattage of the JohnBlue to useable levels with for use with less than super-efficient speakers, and the character of the tube amp was still mostly intact. But whether the loss in transparency was the fault of the Burson or the JohnBlue, or just some compatibility issue(s) I can't say. I'd rather not draw too many conclusions from this solitary experiment.
Kudos to Burson Audio for manufacturing and marketing the PRE-160 preamplifier and PP-160 power amplifier, two components that should be considered by all that are searching for outstanding yet affordable pieces of high-end equipment.
PP-160 Power Amplifier