Burmester 001 CD player Page 3
Listening: Phase Two
One of the Burmester 001's selling points is that, with its switching capability, variable output, and topflight analog output stage, it can be used as a preamp as well as a CD player. Over the years, I've auditioned many players with similar capabilities—on paper, at least—but for the most part, they didn't deliver on the promise. Often their I/O capability was, at best, limited; for the most part, I preferred their sound through a preamp.
My first attempt to use the Burmester 001 sans preamp involved simply switching it to variable output and moving the Audience Au24 unbalanced interconnects from the preamp's output to the 001's. The sound was undeniably better. There was a reduced noise floor, most noticeable as a deeper soundstage, blacker silences, and a much better sense of the air and space around instruments. But the major components of the 001's personality—the warm tonal balance, the softened transients, the largish images, the lack of air—were all still there.
But the Burmester is a true balanced design. Someone smart once said to me, "You're paying for two sets of circuitry. Why would you use just one?" So I moved on to configuration three, replacing the unbalanced Au24 runs between the 001 and Levinson No.20.6s with balanced 6m lengths of Wireworld Gold Eclipse II.
The first line in my listening notes is "incredible!!!!!!," underlined twice. Yes, it was still the same player, but its strengths were magnified. The incredibly three-dimensional images were even more solid, and the soundstage went from merely "really deep" to cavernous. I could hear between and around images, and directly back, way back to the farthest rear corners of the stage. Silences were blacker still, and the wonderful tonal colors even more rich and vibrant. And the textures of the sounds—the clarinet's woodiness, or Rickie Lee Jones' vocal nuances—were even more detailed and realistic.
But more significant, the characteristics that had made the 001 seem a bit too gorgeous in my first configuration were now gone, or nearly so. Dynamics were now realistic, from the tiniest subtleties to the most explosive transients. In fact, in this configuration, the 001 smartly leapfrogged my reference setup in terms of immediacy. On The Poll Winners, Ray Brown, Shelly Manne, and Barney Kessel not only woke up, I was now in the studio with them—umpteen layers of electromechanical processing had been removed from the music.
It was a similar case with Naked Songs—I was magically transported to Rickie Lee Jones' show. Her guitar snapped and rang exactly as it should, and her voice not only regained its myriad inflections, it was rendered with a natural ease and body that made my reference system sound strained, two-dimensional, and a bit thin. Edge definition sharpened up as well. Her voice was more sharply defined in space, and the image of her guitar was more distinct, with a tightly focused picture of the pick against the strings, surrounded by the larger, resonating body.
The 001 wasn't a different player, but it was now better in every way, and much better in some. There was still a bit of extra warmth—but less, for example, than in Albuquerque's Popejoy hall, where I've spent many an evening. The 001's soundstage still wasn't as wide as the Simaudio's, nor did it have quite the Sim's airiness and shimmer around cymbals, but these were now much smaller differences, and not intrusive at all.
I scratched my head a great deal trying to understand and rationalize the Burmester's performance. Its personality, regardless of configuration, remained constant, but the differences in magnitude between its used as a conventional CD player and driving the power amplifiers in balanced mode without a preamplifier caught me a bit off guard. Perhaps the combination of my VAC preamp and the 001 were synergistic in a way that accentuated some of the Burmester's inherent characteristics. Another possibility is that the pairing of the 001, the Wireworld cables, and the Levinson No.20.6s simply clicked in the other direction.
Or maybe the Burmester simply behaved differently through its balanced outputs, which is something I've seen before, and which John Atkinson's measurements might illuminate. Unfortunately, the last combination—the 001 feeding the VAC via balanced Wireworld interconnects—was one that I couldn't explore; the VAC doesn't have balanced inputs.
And that leaves us where...?
The hard facts are beyond dispute. The Burmester 001 is a superbly engineered CD player and digital preamp that's incredibly versatile, easy to use, and built to last until the next millennium. It's also, in my book, very expensive. My original question—Is it worth $14,000?èts us to its sonic performance, where things aren't quite so straightforward.
Used as a "normal" CD player feeding my standard reference system, the 001 sounded gorgeous. I was totally, completely seduced by it. I loved it. Everyone who heard it loved it. It undeniably established that direct, emotional connection of listener to music that we're all looking for.
On the other hand, it had a distinct, overt personality—arguably, more overt than one should expect from a $14,000 unit. The bottom line is that if you're going to use it as a straight CD player, arrange an audition. I can guarantee that it will tug at your heart, but only you can decide whether or not it's going to win over your head and pocketbook as well.
But as the centerpiece of a digital-only system, running balanced from stem to stern, the Burmester 001 is the best digital front-end I've ever heard. As expensive as it is, I've heard digital setups that cost several times as much and didn't match the Burmester's magic. I'm not about to give up my turntable, but the 001 had me thinking "It's not really that much trouble to switch interconnects around when I move from analog to digital, is it?"
I can't afford a $14,000 CD player, but if I could, the Burmester CD 001 would be my choice. It's worth it. It really is that good.