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Review - Burson Audio Playmate 2

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TLDR version on YouTube: TDLR - Burson Audio Playmate 2

The Playmate 2 has been sent to me directly by Burson for me to try it out and to share my opinions in this review. Burson have not made any requests or comments and, as always, I will do my very best to be as unbiased and sincere as humanly possible.

You can find the official page for the Playmate 2 here: https://www.bursonaudio.com/products/playmate-2/

As usual, this link is non-affiliate and I do not benefit from clicks or purchases in any way.

To avoid being repetetive in my reviews, you can find all the info about how I create the reviews, equipment used, how I receive the products and how to interpret my reviews by visiting: About my reviews


Intro…

While Burson products have always drawn my attention, I have never had a chance to try any of them. Therefore, when Burson unexpectedly reached out and offered to send the Playmate 2 for review, I was obviously very happy to accept.

For those who haven’t come across Burson audio, or haven’t really paid any attention to them, they are an Australian company, based in Melbourne, who were established in 2001. This means that they are by no means a newcomer into the audio world and, while they do have quite a selection of DACs and Amplifiers, they are also very well known and respected for their OP Amps.

This is something that they are happy to use in their favour, as they build their products to make it easy to swap Op Amps, allowing users to tailor their products to their own tastes.

In the case of the Playmate 2 which I am reviewing today, it is again built to allow users to swap out OP Amps (with Burson offering different options) but I am focusing on this device in its stock form.


Presentation…

Burson are happy to let you know on their web that they do not advertise, buy reviews or attend trade-shows in order to not increase the price of their products. In the case of the packaging, it seems that a similar “no-frills” approach is maintained.

A simple white box with basic information on the outside opens to reveal the device sitting in simple packing foam and a smaller white box containing the accessories.

Inside the accessories box we get the power supply, an adapter to split the mic input/headphone output (more on that in a second), a spare fuse, an allen key for disassembling the device (to swap OP amps), a fabric covered USB A to USB C cable and an RCA to RCA cable.

In general it is a very simple presentation but everything is well packed and protected and I applaud the saving on packaging where possible, especially if those savings go into the product itself.


Build and aesthetics…

The Playmate 2 is completely made of metal, aluminium to be more specific, which tends towards a slightly industrial look while still maintaining elegance. I had seen plenty of photos of the device and while I liked the look, I have to say that it looks much better in person than it does in photos.

With a brushed aluminium faceplate and back plate, the rest of the device is ridged, sort of like a heat sink, and while very simple, I must say I like the design. It has spent the past few weeks sitting on my desk at the side of a Mac Mini and while the Playmate 2 is of a darker finish, they look at home together.


Functionality…

Starting off with the rear panel, there is not a huge amount of connectivity but enough from my personal use. From left to right we have the USB-C connection followed by a optical input, an RCA unbalanced output and finally the connection for the power supply (which is a 3A 24VDC).

Moving around to the front, again from left to right, we have the power button, a 6.35mm unbalanced headphone output, a 3.5mm TRRS output (for use with headsets that have microphones), a small screen with white digits, a large (and very nice) knurled digital potentiometer (which is also a push button) and finally the menu button.

On the screen we get the volume displayed in large digits to the left and just to the right we get smaller text that shows the selected input, the selected output and the current file rate. Turning the control obviously raises and decreases volume and pressing the same control mutes the device (with the volume display flashing to show it is muted).

When I first received the unit, I found that the volume wheel had a tendency to skip when turning it, it would do things like 20,21,22,23,19,20,21 etc. As I have used the device, this skipping became less frequent and is now something that only occurs very rarely. I think that maybe it is that the digital control needed some use to settle in (who says burn in doesn’t exist? 🙂).

By pressing the menu button we access the menu of the device, then we can use the wheel to scroll and press to access the parameter we want to change (with the device reverting back to the main screen after 30 seconds of no interaction or by pressing the menu button again).

The options in the menu are:

INPUT: USB/Toslink

OUTPUT: Headphone/Pre Out

PRE LV: Low/High

FIRFILTER: Brickwall/CMFR/Reserved/AP Fast/MP Slow/MP Fast/LP Slow/ LP Fast/

DPLL(DSD): DPLL Off/Low/Mid/High

DPLL(PCM): DPLL Off/Low/Mid/High

EMPHASIS: On/Off

RESET SET: No/Yes

AUTO OFF: No/Yes

The first two options are pretty straight forwards, the PRE LV is the gain and the FIRFILTER are the typical filter options you find on most DACs. The DPLL options are something that I haven’t come across before and searching the internet led me to discovering it stands for Digital Phase-Locked Loop filters but I didn’t investigate much further. You have the option to change them for DSD or for PCM independently but, in my subjective testing, I didn’t really notice a difference and opted for leaving them both on High (which is how they come out of the box).

EMPHASIS is a bit of a strange one as it basically reduces most of the high end of the sound. According to the manual, which actually lists it as “DE-EMPHASIS”, you should only turn this on if your source is a cassette player, which makes sense for reducing the hiss of cassettes but… the Playmate 2 only has digital inputs, so I can’t see how (or why) anyone would attempt to connect a cassette player to it.

The last two settings are RESET SET, which is to restore the factory defaults, and AUTO OFF which allows the unit to turn off automatically after not receiving a signal for a while.

Something that deserves mentioning again is the fact that the 3.5mm output is also an input for a microphone, allowing you to use either the typical 4 pole TRRS (such as those used on smartphones) or the included splitter and use a separate set of headphones/IEMs and microphone. This is something that is not found often on devices that focus on audio quality and should make it a very interesting unit for those who either game or do a lot of conference calls (like in my case) and don’t want to compromise on power or audio quality.

As far as power goes, the Playmate 2 is specified as having 3W per channel and I have to say that I had absolutely no issue with it powering anything that I plugged into it, be it high impedance DD or current hungry planars. IEMs are a bit more of a problem. The biggest issue with IEMs is that 1/100 on the dial is already at what I would consider an acceptable listening level for some, so there will be no really quiet listening sessions with IEMs on the Playmate 2. There is a hint of background noise with sensitive IEMs but at the same time it is less apparent than on some other devices that have been specifically designed with IEMs in mind.


Sound…

I don’t know why but I expected the Playmate 2 to be a bit of a harsh DAC/Amp. I guess that preconceived opinions were at play but I was surprised to find that it is actually quite a relaxed amplifier. It doesn’t portray the warmth of some other alternatives but it is certainly a long way from being harsh and analytical.

I have plugged in many sets of headphones and IEMs into the Playmate 2 over the weeks that I have been using it and I have to say, I found myself using it more and more, without swapping over to other options even when I found time to have a dedicated listening session.

As always, my subjective opinions of a DAC/Amp are a mixture of things that I really hear and things that my brain tells me I am hearing, but in the case of the Burson, I really enjoy the result. 

For quite some time, my main set up was the SMSL SU-8 paired with the Schiit Asgard and the Playmate 2 is, to my ears, like a refined version of that set up. I tried going back and forth between the SU-8 and the Playmate 2 while feeding the Asgard 3 and I found that the outcome was very similar but, again, seeming just a little more refined on the Burson unit. Moving back to the Playmate 2, I have to say that I prefer the pairing with its own internal amp over feeding the Asgard.

With my planars, the result is very good, although I did find that on some occasions, the higher mids of the planar options could come across as slightly more harsh than usual, but that could also be due to the fact that I am used to the EF400 which is more of a warmer and smoother option.

With the HD6XX, the Playmate 2 does a very good job and I would be very happy to have it be my source for them if it wasn’t for having a tube amp on my desk. While talking about tubes, I also used the Burson to feed the Echo Mk2 and have absolutely no complaints there either. The result is slightly more focused than when fed by the EF400 which makes for a very enjoyable listen.

With IEMs I actually really like the presentation of the Playmate 2, the only issue being the fact that the amp is already loud enough at 1/100, so not really much room for adjustment. In fact, with some of the more sensitive options, they were already above my usual listening levels before I even got above 1.


Conclusion…

I feel that the Burson Playmate 2 is a very competent and well thought out device that is simple enough for those that just want plug and play but at the same time has enough options for those who want to tinker, both with the onboard filters and the option to swap out OP amps.

As far as performance, I have no complaints. I wouldn’t suggest that you pick this device up if you are mainly an IEM user, but for headphones it is a great option, no matter how much power they need. It is not an overly analytical amp and manages to have a slightly relaxed presentation but without getting to the warmer side like some other alternatives. I honestly do find it to be like having a more refined version of the SU-8 + Asgard 3.

Some people will complain about the lack of balanced connectivity on the Playmate 2 but that is not something I find an issue for me personally. I do opt for balanced connectivity over longer runs to my DSP and speakers etc. but my headphone set up is mostly unbalanced and it is something I have no complaints with.

However, there is one thing that sets this apart from almost all other options (at least from other brands) and that is the fact that it has a microphone input. Both for the gamers and for those who spend their days in an office with multiple calls, this is something that makes it stand out above the competition, allowing you to use headphones of your choice, with a mic of your choice, and not compromise on audio quality.

I guess the next step is to play around with some OP amp swaps and see what that brings to the table with this, very competent, DAC/Amp.


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