Burmester 011 preamplifier Page 2

Another component of the Burmester's sound was its huge soundstage, which stretched to well outside my Thiel CS6 loudspeakers and beyond the front wall of my room. Its height was also large, and varied as necessary to describe the venue. In some cases, that meant putting the front rows of the audience well below my Thiels—listen to Rickie Lee Jones' Naked Songs (CD, Reprise 45950-2) to hear what I mean—and in others, it meant locating a concert hall's ceiling high above them.

Individual performers were also large—arguably, in some instances, too large—but not distractingly so. The 011's slightly soft focus exaggerated the effect. The images were gently spread rather than sharply bound, and expanding auras of sound around performers or instruments interacted more with adjacent performers', more densely filling the spaces between them.

The 011's images were still solid and dimensional; it's just that their size and placement wasn't established by a sharp delineation of their boundaries. Instead, they were more defined—and defined quite well—by their dynamics, inner detail, and dense tonal structures. Beverly Sills' Violetta, in the La Traviata conducted by Aldo Ceccato (LP, Angel SCLX-3780), was a good example. Sills was more substantial through the Burmester than I've heard her through other preamps, and the ambience cues that described All Saints' Church around her were more vivid and better integrated.

I used a couple of classic "audiophile fun-house" effects to double-check the 011's re-creation of images: the footfalls and breaking bottle on "Private Investigations," from Dire Straits' Love Over Gold (CD, Warner Bros. 47772-2); and the maracas on Dead Can Dance's "Yulunga," from Enter the Labyrinth (LP, 4AD DAD 3013). In both cases there was definitely more information defining the images than ever before, and they were more distinct from their surroundings, which gave them an "in-the-room" presence despite the slightly soft focus.

The 011's tonal balance, like that of the 001 CD player, was slightly on the warm side of neutral. There was a bit more energy from the very bottom through at least the lower midrange than I'm used to hearing, and its bass wasn't quite as tight as it could be. Ray Brown's powerful, rich bass on "Mistreated . . . " was a good example—perhaps just a bit too powerful, and not quite fully under control. Further up, in the lower midrange, bassoons and oboes were warm and woody, with wonderful, dense textures, but not quite as clean and airy as when heard live.

The 011's top end was probably a bit sweeter than the absolute truth, with a slightly golden glow and a touch of liquidity—but it was unfailingly gorgeous. On Art Blakey's Caravan (LP, Riverside 9438/OJC-038), Blakey's cymbal was gorgeous, with a distinct bell-like ring at its core and expanding waves of shimmer that permeated the air and filled the room. The ring was probably a bit too sweet and the shimmer too golden, but I confess that it really didn't matter much—after a few minutes of intense, analytical thought, I wrote "Great album!" in my notes, sat back, and enjoyed the music.

That phrase, enjoyed the music, sums up my overall experience with the Burmester 011. Unless I made a conscious effort to scrutinize and analyze, its engaging sound and simple operation removed the equipment from the picture and connected me directly with the performance. With the Burmester in the system, I listened more to music and less to equipment than I have in a long time, and loved every minute of it.

How did it stack up?
As I noted up front, I spent a bit of time comparing the 011's line and phono stages to standalone competitors. This confirmed, first, that both were excellent, and second, that the 011's character was present in both stages—though a bit more obvious in the line stage. The most overt difference between the Burmester and Sutherland's PhD, on the other hand, was the scale and power of their dynamic transients, the 011's explosive impact made even more obvious by the comparison to the Sutherland's slightly recessed presentation. Another big difference was how they reproduced inner detail and tonal textures: the PhD was pure, clean, and almost delicate, the Burmester big and vibrant. Brass instruments were a good example. Through the 011 they exploded with raucous, brassy honks; through the Sutherland they were pure and exquisitely detailed, but lacked the blare. The PhD's images, too, were more sharply bounded and focused than the Burmester's.

On the line-stage side, the first thing I noticed when I replaced the Burmester with the VTL TL-7.5 was the latter's smaller soundstage and more tightly focused images. The Burmester's dynamic transients were also larger and more explosive than the TL-7.5's, but not as even across the frequency spectrum. They were slightly accentuated from the lower midrange on down, further contrasting the 011's warm tonal balance with the VTL's neutrality. Both were excellent and musically satisfying, but, like the phono stages, gave a performance a different character and feel, a difference akin to hearing an orchestra in two very different halls.

But do I need the preamp?
The first time I sat down to listen to CDs through Burmester's 001 and 011, it was with a bit of trepidation. Both units had big, vibrant sounds, both were slightly warm in their tonal balance, and both painted a huge, softly focused portrait of the soundstage and performers. In short, both were gorgeous—but together, would they be too much of a good thing?

They weren't. Combining the two seemed to slightly mitigate rather than accentuate their individual characters, or better align them with the essence of a musical performance. I cued up Rickie Lee Jones' "Chuck E.'s in Love," from Naked Songs, turned off the lights, sat back, and—Wow! I've heard this track many, many times, through some of the best equipment available, but I still wasn't prepared for the holographic way the Burmester put Jones and her guitar in my listening room. Descriptions of "edge definition" and "image focus" just weren't relevant—she was there.

I spent several evenings working through my most live-sounding discs, from a closely miked solo Steve Forbert in a small hall to a huge Shostakovich symphony, double- and triple-checking to be sure of what I was hearing. Although the degree seemed to vary slightly, the synergy of the Burmester 001 and 011 was solidly there in every case. The focus tightened up, as did the low bass, and the inner details were every bit as rich, but with a little less of the sweet, golden glow that either unit had on its own. Individually, they're wonderful components; together, they're sensational.

Summing up
The Burmester 011 is a wonderful preamp. If you've got $15,999 to spend—and particularly if you play CDs and LPs—you need to hear it. Its functionality, ease of use, and efficient packaging are brilliant, and its luxurious user interfaces and construction quality are commensurate with its price. Best of all, its sonic performance is among the very best I've heard. It has a big, dynamic sound, and it reproduces inner details and tonal textures extraordinarily well. Its sonic portraits aren't as sharply focused as some, but that wasn't a distraction. The Burmester 011 unfailingly conveys the essence and emotion of a live performance, and is involving in exactly the ways live music is. This preamp was built by music lovers for music lovers. Absolutely, positively, very highly recommended.

US distributor: Immedia
1101 Eighth Street, Suite 210
Berkeley, CA 94710
(510) 559-2050