Burmester 151 MK2 MusicCenter streaming D/A preamplifier

Ah, domesticity. Just when I had the reference system sounding better than ever, the husband decided to relocate his electric keyboard and music stand, which had been positioned along the right wall of the detached music room, to the dining room in the main house. His reason was rational: While I did the reviewer thing in one space, he'd be free to practice keyboard and sing in another. But what was rational to him screwed with my reference sound and drove me to the brink of irrationality.

Before I could pull things back together, the shiny, just-released Burmester 151 MK2 Musiccenter ($27,500) arrived for review. As I scrambled to treat the room and find my way back to audio nirvana, I felt a bit like the cat in a vintage Disney cartoon, crashing into walls as it chased three blind mice who scrambled this way and that with the speed of first-order reflections. After I moved around the heavy bass panels and analyzed acoustic measurements performed with REW (footnote 1), I was back on the path to tighter bass, smoother highs, and first-rate imaging—but now with a few more silver hairs on the top of my head.

Eventually, I felt ready to investigate the 151 MK2. Described as the "little brother" of Burmester's Reference Line 111 Musiccenter, the 151 MK2, which is part of Burmester's "Top Line," is a music server/network streamer with an internal DAC and volume control that can directly feed power amplifiers or active speakers. If you engage the 151 MK2's fixed volume output option and move interconnects, you can pair it with a preamplifier, utilizing that component's volume control without compromise. You can also bypass the 151 MK2's internal DAC and use it solely as a music server/streamer.

The 151 MK2's playback options are numerous. It can play files from USB sticks: There's a USB input on the front panel for convenience. You can play files stored on an external solid state drive (SSD): There are four USB inputs on the back panel, including one USB 3.0. You can import files onto its 2TB internal SSD. You can play files from network-attached storage. The 151 MK2 can stream internet radio and music from the Tidal, Qobuz, and Idagio streaming services via Ethernet or Wi-Fi.

The 151 MK2 has a CD drive that allows you to rip silver discs to its internal 2TB SSD and play the files back once ripping has concluded. Burmester says the error-correction process used to rip files is so thorough that on playback the files will usually sound superior to the CD. You can also simply play CDs.

The 151 MK2 has a "volume matching" setting that adjusts base volume levels so that when you switch genres from classical to jazz to pop/rock, the music doesn't blast your eardrums; Burmester says this is done in a way that doesn't overcompress volume-limited music and compromise natural dynamics. The Musiccenter's DAC automatically upsamples/resamples lower-rez music to 24/96 or 24/192—your choice—and DSD up to DSD256 and DXD to 24/192 or 24/96 (your choice again) while reclocking the signal.


The 151 MK2 also includes digital inputs and outputs, RCA S/PDIF, and TosLink: Burmester calls the latter "TOTX" and "TORX," for "Toshiba Transmit" and "Toshiba Receive." (TosLink is short for "Toshiba Link.") There's an Ethernet connection, of course, and connectors for mounting the two included Wi-Fi antennas. Finally, there's one L–R pair of analog inputs over mini-XLR connectors; adapter cables are included in the box. So, you can hook up a turntable to the 151 MK2. You'll need a separate phono preamp, of course.


You have four ways to manage much of this: the unit's own front-panel controls, the iPad app—an iPad Mini is included—a full-function web interface, and a remote control. The display screen and numerous LED indicators (whose color can be changed) let you know what's happening. I mostly stuck with iPad control.

To me it seems unlikely that someone would spend $27,500 on the multifunction 151 MK2 Musiccenter with the intention of using it only as a streamer or a streaming DAC. Yet, during email, Zoom, and WhatsApp conversations with three knowledgeable, personable Burmester employees—Björn Meyborg, head of customer and technical support; Stefan Größler (footnote 2), chief technical officer; and Simon Pope, the UK-based PR specialist for home audio—I learned that many owners of the Musiccenter 151 MK2 do indeed pair it with an external preamplifier. Most, though, take advantage of its full capabilities as a server/DAC with volume control. "We designed it with both customers in mind, and we didn't want to compromise," Größler said. "That's why we have two devices in one and why users can completely bypass the Musiccenter's volume control and reconfigure the audio path using the selectable fixed-output mode."

I decided, therefore, to try the 151 MK2 all three ways: as a stand-alone streamer/DAC/preamp (with D'Agostino Progression M550 monoblocks feeding Wilson Alexia 2 loudspeakers); as a streamer/DAC (with the D'Agostino Momentum HD replacing the Musiccenter's preamp); and as a server/streamer, with the dCS Rossini DAC/Rossini Clock combination ($35,000) doing the D/A conversion and feeding the D'Agostino preamp and all that followed. Nordost cabling delivered power and connected everything together.

Inside the Musiccenter
Queried about his objectives for the 151 MK2 Musiccenter, designer Größler replied, "We don't want it to 'sound' at all. If the device is completely transparent, then we are happy. That means we are adding nothing and losing nothing; we want music to sound just as the artist intended.

"Sonic stereotypes depending upon the European country of origin are wrong," Größler said. But "if you're going by the stereotypes, Burmester sounds very un-German."

Größler continued, "We aim for the essence—in German we call it 'Substanz'—in music. The power supply has the greatest impact on the substance or, as some would describe it, natural warmth. You will never manage to get warmth and substance out of a weak power supply, especially with the high dynamics of classical music. If you go from a very strong passage to one that's very soft, you won't hear the beginning of the transition if your power supply is weak. This is why we pay so much attention to power supplies."

Größler told me that of the many measurements they make, they've found that one is especially important: intermodulation distortion. "We look deeply into this because such distortion is completely annoying, whether it's from the loudspeaker or the equipment or the room. Fifty percent of the sound you hear is due to the environment. But with what we can address on the equipment end, we always aim to get rid of any disturbances or influences we don't want. We also listen carefully to every device we develop many times over in our studio on the ground floor of our headquarters. The same procedure is used for quality assurance for every product that leaves the company."

The time had come for a variation on the age-old question Jews ask at every Passover seder: Why is this audio product different from all other audio products?

"We pay attention to the details," Größler replied. "This takes time and costs money. If you don't look into each and every detail, you will lose something. "We are known for our analog circuitry. We've built analog circuits for 45 years. It's in our DNA to know how to make a transparent power supply and all else that is needed.


"But the Musiccenter also performs D/A conversion. We had to choose and tune the PC [printed circuit] board to make this possible. Then we had to choose how to boot the operating system, and which operating system, board packages, layers, applications, and database to use.

"We decided in 2009 to make everything on our own. It was crazy to do that back then, but it means that because we manufacture all of it, we understand the behavior of every part of the chain and thus can control it. The only downside is that if external factors change, we have to recode and do the work anew."

When I attempted, in the interview, to delve deep into the MK2's design, Größler followed the same path many other engineers I've interviewed have followed and kept design details close to his chest. When questioned about the 151 MK2 Musiccenter's DAC, for example, he said, "Our DAC is chip-based. I'd love to make our own chip, but given our company's small size, the development cost doesn't justify itself. Depending upon the device, we use chips from Texas Instruments, Wolfson, ESS, and AKM. But changing chips doesn't necessarily change the sound, because the sound comes from the whole design, not only the chip itself. That's why I won't name a specific chip. I could buy a really expensive chip, but if I messed up the design, it would sound awful. On the other hand, you could buy a cheap chip and make it sound good by having the design really right.

Footnote 1: Thank you for your assistance, Demian Martin.

Footnote 2: Grö'ßler, who has been with Burmester since 2006, is responsible for the company's home and automotive product development, which he calls "completely different worlds."

Burmester Audiosysteme
US distributor: Rutherford Audio
14 Inverness Drive East, Unit G-108
Englewood, CO 80111

Dr Z's picture

all five USB connectors on the 151 are of the USB-A type...

Herb Reichert's picture

"The 151 MK2's playback options are numerous. It can play files from USB sticks: There's a USB-C input on the front panel for convenience."


Dr Z's picture

if you can cram a USB-C stick into that front socket & get it render music :) check out p. 20 of the 151's manual, it's USB-A up front as well...

Herb Reichert's picture

You were right and I was wrong,

I apologize for not doing my due diligence.


Kal Rubinson's picture

This is a common problem with music server software generally. Once the music is ingested, everything works fine, but ingesting music and setting up a library is an error-prone process. Fixing it up—in my experience at least—requires a certain amount of competence in information technology.

This is certainly true but I think it is much more significant for proprietary servers, such as the Burmester under review and the many other dedicated boxes whose embedded firmware does not support editing/tagging functions. That category includes those which run under such proprietary systems as HEOS and BlueOS. In all of these, the metadata has to be managed by some external device. Software-based systems that run Roon, Jriver, Audirvana, etc., have internal tagging/editing functions that can manage these tasks internally and more easily.

Jim Austin's picture


I'm not as familiar with some of the other systems you listed, but I know that for years Roon--which I otherwise greatly admire and use daily--refused to take any responsibility for ingesting music, and even today, its functionality in that regard is limited. It does fine for mainstream first releases, but it struggles with repackaged reissues--especially multidisc boxed sets.

I'll stand behind the assertion that for all these systems, not just the "proprietary" ones, ingestion of music remains a struggle.

Jim Austin, Editor

Kal Rubinson's picture

I was being generous to Roon because of its rich data resources that, afaik, dwarfs those of all other players. That is the reason I included it with the other software packages that I've used even though they really limit the user's ability to edit and manipulate metadata. OTOH, the contrast between players that simply "ingest" music and those that offer the facilities to manage/edit/reconfigure music data and display preferences seems to correspond to the distinction between embedded proprietary players and those that are software based.


I'll stand behind the assertion that for all these systems, not just the "proprietary" ones, ingestion of music remains a struggle.

Yes but ingestion is improved if the input is correctly prepared, flavored and presented to please the palate. The music players that provide useful tools help me insure that.

windansea's picture

This is a not a quality review.
I could tolerate unrepentant subjectivity from Art Dudley because of his amusing style, but not from JVS with his empty blather, e.g., "music sings supreme."
There is evidence of poor design with this device-- e.g., "We never make products intentionally complex,"-- yet it sounds like a very unintuitive interface.
Big red flag-- the designer was cagey about which chip is used! Couldn't the reviewer take a peek at the innards? Nothing about the volume control? Coupling caps?
The designer claims "SUBSTANZ" but the reviewer has a duty to apply KRITIK to such claims. This review mostly regurgitated the company line and as such is unhelpful.
For me to regain confidence in JVS, I suggest that he undertake some blind ABX demonstrations to verify his listening ability. Particularly with more subtle devices like a DAC, or a preamp, a reader like me would like to know if any difference is detectable or not.

PS: My primary objection here is a failure to look beyond the marketing BS of the seller. I don't expect a reviewer to be an electrical engineer, but the failure to look under the hood is journalistic malpractice. And to be clear, I'm not asking reviewers to do ABX for every review. It's laborious, time-consuming and risky to one's credibility. But when a review fails to enlighten, a little investment in the scientific rigor of ABX listening would bring us all out of the Dark Ages of total BS. It's the bridge between fanciful subjectivity and honest objectivity.

PPS: I do appreciate the music reviews from JVS. But his product reviews strike me as deeply lacking.

Jack L's picture


Agreed. A good reviewer should override the usual marketing/sales pitches provided by the vendors & provide hands-on using/audition experience of the product under review as if a potential purchaser of the product.

That's what we audio consumers go after.

Listening is believing

Jack L

Glotz's picture

to be exposed to the world at large for business reasons. No consumer by rights of purchase is guaranteed access to technology IP. If they sealed the dac module, would some suggest to bust it open to get to the 'truth'?

The same holds true for the manufacturer. Many simply aren't going to share their trade secrets. It's nice to pretend that consumer transparency is attainable, but I don't think it is. Should the manufacturer lay out their engineering design choices in a crowded field of competition? Do other industries do this, even a bit? No, they don't.

Some feel JVS' music reviews are trustworthy and his product reviews are not. The lack of trust lies more at the poster than the author. I also believe Burmester has a product that JVS states as he hears it. All else is idealistic dross to demand more.

windansea's picture

Many high-end preamp reviews display the innards so we can behold the handiwork, e.g., surprisingly NAGRA uses a $10 ALPS pot, while Shindo uses a somewhat less ordinary Tokyo Cosmos pot. And DAC reviews normally indicate the chip or R2R selection. I don't expect a full "open the kimono" from the designer, but here the designer was SO cagey that it's a red flag begging for scrutiny. It's a $30K preamp-DAC! Is it too much to ask a few simple questions? My pre costs much less, and I know about its choke filter and its coupling caps and the different tubes and the pot and the transformer. It's part of the hobby.

Moreover, Burmester makes speakers and preamps and amps and car audio. So are they great at everything? (unlikely) Maybe they're more like Bose. A pricey brand with disappointing SUBSTANZ behind the big prices.

Glotz's picture

I guess if JVS is used to a very high level of sound reproduction, you would know that he feels Burmester's caliber of sound is definitely up to that benchmark.

We may all disagree of the slight variances in playback preferences, but I firmly believe he would state if the component was so far off the class price point, there would be several mentions throughout the review. Funny thing is, these days you really don't need to take his word for it.

As HR states somewhere in the recent AXPONA posts, this show is really an important time to hear these literally million dollar systems from several manufacturers in a number of disparate systems. This is to directly compare the highest of the high end sound systems extant from companies who offered their very own tip to tail system- like Burmester.

I found their room at 6pm Saturday- too late. (And I already partied the night before in downtown Chicago catching Wilco.) I was bummed- but I won't put forth assumptions as I haven't heard their gear and didn't talk to their staff, also at AXPONA.

Audio shows are really important for figuring out value behind component pricing (and system-matching!). I'm sure we all wanna know about all tech going into gear, but I don't feel that I have a right to demand it. There are exceptions.

windansea's picture

I look forward to hitting one of these shows to listen for myself.

But insofar as the readers of Stereophile rely on the staff who attended this show, the issues of trust and confidence come into play. And I must disagree with this conclusory statement: "I guess if JVS is used to a very high level of sound reproduction, you would know that he feels Burmester's caliber of sound is definitely up to that benchmark." There were enough missteps in this review and other recent JVS reviews that I respectfully suggest a blind listening demonstration. The simplest ABX test would be a few DACs connected to the same preamp-amp-speakers. Think of it like a driver's test. Especially once people get older, we're all better off it older drivers recertify their ability. I remember Mr. Atkinson did an ABX to establish if he could hear phase/polarity and he passed the test:

"The listener's capacity for self delusion so that he really does hear differences which are nonexistent in reality (but enjoy a healthy existence in the pages of magazines) when he is aware of the device being tested, I would say is practically infinite."

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Hope to see you at a show I'm covering some day. But please don't shout when you see me; my ears are very sensitive.

Thanks so much,

Glotz's picture

or just the arguments of these pages, I could agree with you in several of your arguments. Without exposure to those high-priced systems, one has absolutely no reference point whatsoever to the current reality of state-of-the-art music playback.

The 'capacity for self-delusion' comment is so far off the mark, it's as if one has been sitting outside the concert venue simply watching behind a glass window, while others are inside listening first-hand. (No offense intended whatsoever.)

To hear the entire Burmester system or any of the least 20 other rooms that were at the absolute cutting edge of reproduction is to finally say to oneself- "Oh, sorry. I had no idea of how accomplished reproduction is these days". Million dollar systems are utter and complete ear-openers.

You really should go at your nearest opportunity. Take the entire weekend to fully appreciate all of the various performance levels provided in the 100+ rooms.

windansea's picture

Next time there's a SoCal audio show, I'm going. My listening experience is confined to concerts and demos at the local dealers, and of course my own systems. What I don't like about the audio show setup is that the marketers are using THEIR chosen recordings.

If you don't think there's self-delusion in audiophilia, I'm not sure where to start. Perhaps Thinking Fast and Slow?

Glotz's picture

They frequently asked me what I would like to listen to in various demos I attended. Since many if not all are also streaming content, it is very possible they can play anything you request.

Regarding your last statement, I think it's rather the other way around. Perhaps 30 years ago when much of luxury audio was still very nascent, but even then I've heard very stable and accurate demos in the 1990's, albeit it was much more rare.

When you go to the next show, it will become starkly obvious the level of quality that is on display there. Splitting hairs about the top-tier components (and the ones in reviewed in JVS' system) will appear to be just that. At AXPONA, most if not all manufacturers were fully represented in live rooms, including D'Agnostino, Wilson, DCS and Nordost. It's as simple as a listen. I would be nothing less than stunned if all weren't impressed.

ejlif's picture