6 months after I received the Burson Playmate and did a thorough review, Burson sent over two pairs of Supreme Sound (SS) V5 discrete opamps to review with the Playmate. By swapping opamps in existing DAC, audio signal is processed differently, resulting in an alteration of the sound quality.
Opamp, or operational amplifier, is a specialised amplifier that has high input impedance, low output impedance, high gain as well as large bandwidth, whereas basic amplifier has comparatively low input impedance, high output impedance, moderate gain and limited bandwidth. Opamp is effective in removing noise and other unwanted signals because of differential input with negative feedback mechanism, as differential circuit amplifies the difference between the input signals.
On its own, Burson Playmate is already sounding better than a lot of DACs. Now with the opamp rolling, you can tweak the Playmate sound to what you like. Burson Playmate encourages opamp rolling as you can simply pull out existing opamps from the circuit board connectors. Different opamps will bring out different character on your DAC.
Playmate supports 4 opamps, in dual configurations, at various stages of the signal chain. You can choose to change 2 opamps or 4 opamps, and they need to be replaced as a pair. Check out the video below on how to install them.
The default opamp on the Burson Playmate is JRC5532D (NE5532). While these are relatively tiny, they are still made of discrete circuits instead of integrated circuits. Discrete circuits have major advantages of allowing manufacturer to handpick the best known components to assemble them together using premium soldering techniques, while integrated circuits may have to compromise in quality for the sake of size and cost.
The major drawback of the SS Opamps are the size. Compared to other components in the circuit board, they are towering, so they might not fit portable DACs. But it’s not stopping hobbyists from modding their players just to get the best sound out of their investment.
And how does the V5 sound? The most obvious difference to me is that it sounds more transparent than with the default opamps. Depending on what headphones you use to listen, it could work for you or against you. On the Sennheiser HD650, the Playmate + V5 delivers improved transparency at the upper frequency, yet it still retains the signature warmth and smoothness. Instruments get an elegant lift at the highs without exaggerated. This combination seems to match somewhat with the Chord Mojo in the clarity. I also ran a comparison with the Sony ZX-507 which delivers a slightly elevated mid-bass to achieve more fullness, with clear and warm vocals. With the Beyerdynamic DT 1770 Pro, the closed-back design lets me listen to far more details than the HD650. The mid-treble is more energetic and the bass is tighter. Between these 2 headphones, I prefer to listen with HD650 as it sounds more open and balanced with details and clarity, while the DT 1700 Pro can get a little too hot on the treble.
But the Playmate offers something that the others could not match: more details, enhanced with transparency and a more prominent sound staging. What it means is that I could hear the subtle room reverbs that the instruments produce, which makes the mix roomier and less cluttered. I am also picking up track details with better clarity, like the delayed echos that the sound engineer carefully mixed for Daft Punk “Get Lucky” somehow comes to my ears more willingly. Instruments like Nile Rodger’s guitar riffs are more distinct. On Classical music, the instrumental separation and clearer texture provide a more engaging listening enjoyment. This is not just a simple EQ tweak: the combination of the premium Burson Playmate amplifier unit with V5 opamp further enhances musical details when paired with capable headphones.
For listeners with sharp ears, they can hear the difference, and thanks to Burson for the review samples, I can realize the difference. As the saying goes, you never know what you are missing until you experience it. Throughout my decades of reviewing audio products, I am convinced that hardware plays a significant part in delivering audio quality, but the more important question is whether you can hear it and if it is worth paying for that improvement. This is why I do not pursue blindly to own the “best” audio equipment and accessories, but once a while I will experience the “extraordinary”.
The SS Opamp V5 is sold in various combinations: single x1, dual x1, dual x2. Prices range from US$65 to US$95 available from the Burson website.
- Improved transparency, details and sound staging
- Does not overly alter the sound
- Easy to install on the Burson Playmate
- Too large to fit in compact DAC