Burmester 001 CD player
A few years ago, if I were contemplating CD players, I would have answered those questions confidently: "Anything over $1000." Then the Wadia 830, at $2500, rewrote my rulebook. Next, there was the original Simaudio Moon Eclipse, and the Oracle, and the Wadia 861, and...before I knew it, $5000, $6000, and maybe even a bit more than that, seemed like pretty reasonable prices for topnotch CD players.
But take a quick look at the price line in the specifications Sidebar for the Burmester 001: $14,000. Fourteen thousand dollars. Even as far down the rabbit hole as I am, smack dab in the middle of multi-thousand-dollar interconnects and phono cartridges, $100 component feet, and God knows what else, a $14,000 CD player stops me in my tracks. Just what makes it so expensive? More important, can it possibly be that good?
Scary as it seems, if you look at Burmester's line, $14,000 kind of makes sense. The 001 is Burmester's best single-box CD player, and slots into the third of their four tiers of products. Their entry-level line, Rondo, consists of a CD player ($3695), an integrated amp ($4495), and an FM tuner ($3095). Next up is the Basic series, which includes a CD player, separate amp and preamp, and a tuner, ranging in price from $6000 to $9000. The Top series is next, and includes either the 001 single-box player or a separate transport and DAC, an amp and preamp, and another tuner. At $14,000, the 001 is about the middle of the range. Finally, there's the Reference series, where everything is à la carte. Even the preamp isn't really a preamp, but a chassis into which you load specific cards to give it the functionality and connectivity that you need. Price? As they say, if you have to ask...
What does $14,000 buy you?
The 001 isn't just a CD player—it's also a fully functional preamp for a digital-only system. There are four digital inputs of three different types, selected by a front-panel button, and an indicator LED to confirm that the unit has synced to a digital input. All digital inputs, including the onboard disc transport, are upsampled to 24-bit/96kHz via a proprietary Burmester DSP algorithm, prior to D/A conversion. The 001 also has three types of digital outputs, should you, for some reason, want to bypass its multi-kilobuck filter, DAC, and analog stages—or, in my case, drive a CD recorder.
On the analog side are both single-ended and balanced outputs, and the 001 can be set for either variable or fixed analog output level by simply turning the unit off and back on while holding down the Volume button. In the variable output mode, which lets you to connect the 001 directly to your amps and sell your preamp on eBay to help pay for the Burmester, the volume is varied in 60 discrete steps, and the level is displayed on the 001's front panel. Volume control is entirely electronic—no potentiometers—and done in the analog domain. And since the 001's output stage is essentially the same one used in Burmester's line stages, it's capable of driving any combination of cable and power amplifier. However, if you do use a preamp, the 001's fixed outputs can be set for one of two levels, 6dB apart, to better match the level of your other sources. The 001 also offers a choice of two different analog filters; according to Burmester, the Soft filter "is tuned to a spatial and warm sound," and the Linear filter "offers optimally linear phase and frequency characteristic in addition to spatial and warm sound."
Burmester is pretty tightlipped about just what's under the 001's hood, describing their specific component choices and the details of their implementation as "a secret that's as tightly kept as the recipe for Coke." But the basics include a belt-drive transport assembly that's built in-house, using only the laser head assembly from a Philips CD Pro unit. Attention to detail in its construction includes such exotica as: a "superprecision ball bearing" that runs on a sapphire bearing surface; a belt that's frozen, shaped, and cut at -40 degrees C, for stability and long life (90,000 hours); and the entire assembly is mounted on a massive aluminum slab, itself suspended by a complex system of elastomer mounts. Upsampling and digital filtering are done via DSP algorithms, followed by D/A conversion via four matched D/A chips in a balanced configuration.
On the analog side, the op-amp-based circuitry is Burmester's X-amp topography: fully balanced, DC-coupled, and pure class-A. The identity of the specific devices used is, you guessed it, proprietary. But nothing about the 001 is "standard," not even its feet: rather than simple elastomer pucks, they're complex assemblies of carbon springs.
System and Setup
The 001 spent the better part of three months in my system, where it was paired with my VAC CPA1 Mk.III preamp at times, and at other times, run—as I'll discuss later—directly into either VTL Ichiban or Mark Levinson No.20.6 power amplifiers. The 001's tenure overlapped with both the Audio Physic Virgo III and Thiel CS6 loudspeakers. My primary bases for comparison were either the Simaudio Eclipse Moon CD player or analog: VPI's TNT Mk.V-HR turntable-tonearm combo fitted with a Grado Statement Reference cartridge.