Frequency Response –
Testing Methodology: RMAA via Startech External Sound Card
The Playmate II offers a linear frequency response through the audible spectrum, an ideal result. This suggests that it adds no intentional coloration to the sound. Due to the quality of my sound card, I am unable to reliably test other measures such as distortion and crosstalk so they will be used as a personal reference only. Qualities here can impact the sound in subjective listening.
Output Impedance & Hiss –
The Burson Playmate II has a moderate noise floor that is inaudible on most headphones but clearly audible even during music playback on most in-ears. Performance here is also suitable for less sensitive in-ears such as most EST models and some DD models, but most will pick up some kind of noise. I would steer clear if you want a source that can handle both headphones and in-ears or predominately listen to in-ears. If you’re set on this model, an iFi IEMatch may be a good complement for this device to widen versatility. The gain is also quite high which limits IEM pairings, something the IEMatch can also help with to some degree.
Output impedance is rated at sub 2-ohms which is not a bad result but again, not ideal for IEMs, especially multi-driver models. On the Campfire Audio Ara with mechanical crossover that is especially sensitive to output impedance, I did note a brighter sound and less bass relative to my sources with a 1-ohm, even sub 1-ohm output impedance. On the contrary, IEMs with an impedance higher than 16 ohms will experience minimal colouration due to this in addition to the vast majority of headphones.
Driving Power –
Though many other amplifiers may quote more driving power on paper, the Burson Playmate II did give me a more power than I expected. This is surely aided by its high gain that means the user will never be left wanting more volume even with very high-impedance headphones. The Playmate II also offers sound dynamics, its sound tuning doesn’t reinforce this, but driver control was always good on the pairings I tested including high-end dynamic driver headphones like the Focal Clear to planar magnetic models like the Audeze LCD-X and Final D8000 Pro. It handles transitions from quiet to loud and back better than many competitors. While balanced output is not present, around this price there are few “true balanced” designs and smart single-ended design should offer similar performance as I experienced here. While the noise floor is not ideal, driving power is a strong point of the Playmate II making it a good choice for full-size headphones.
Testing Methodology: SPL volume matched AB with D8000 Pro connected to in-line splitter with THX 789 and SH-9.
The Playmate II, in listening, was a refreshing change from the hyper-linear sources I’ve been reviewing in recent years. Depending on your preferences, this may not be a good thing, but it is a reminder that the pursuit of technical perfection isn’t synonymous with achieving a universal standard. Bass is full and smooth, vocals large and richly toned. Meanwhile, highs are just a touch laid-back but natural and superbly textured. The Playmate II might not have razor sharp imaging but a multi-dimensional presentation that immerses all the same. It feels overplayed, but analogue is certainly an apt descriptor here, delivering music with a charming “fuzz” over a razer-edged accuracy right in-line with the company’s overall vibe.
My THX789 has been an invaluable tool for my reviewing for its flexible IO and linear, highly controlled sound. The Playmate II takes a different direction. Where the THX789 offers a deeply extending, tight and hard-hitting sub-bass followed by a linear mid-bass and even transitions, the Playmate II is more euphonic with a warmer mid-bass and rounder notes. Its sub-bass isn’t as physical and commanding, yet similarly tight. Its mid-bass is enlarged, and its notes assume a fuller, warmer structure in turn. The Playmate is impressively articulate despite this, its mid-bass is controlled and agile if warm and smoothly textured due to its diminished sub-bass slam. While it isn’t as dynamic and bold as the THX amp, the Playmate II still offers plenty of agility and insight alongside a very easy-going tonality with gorgeous, unfatiguing warmth.
I am usually wary of such tuning, as I am personally quite particular about the midrange tonality. However, here, Burson exercise good restraint and taste. The Playmate II offers a slightly warm, roomy but not overly chesty or full expression. Vocal size is slightly enhanced as is there presence and intimacy. The added warmth stemming from the bass and lack of separating dips between, grants a rich, organic timbre. The slight lower-midrange roominess also adds a sense of dimension without skewing the voicing towards boxiness or boom. In turn, the Burson does lack some cleanliness and neither definition nor separation can be considered its forte. This is rather a highly coherent sounding source with powerful, enriched vocals retaining strong focus.
The high-end is obviously laid-back relative to my modern solid-state sources, even with the THX amp being fed by the smoother SMSL SU-9. The THX amp has a highly defined and resolving sound with palpable fine details coming through vivid and immediate. Meanwhile, the Burson’s note attack is not as sharp and its decay is slightly longer resulting in a smoother yet more textured expression. Though the THX amp brings more detail to the fore as a result, the Playmate II offers similarly strong fine-detail retrieval in the foreground just in a far less overt manner. Above, the THX amp does offer stronger extension, being more resolving of background details and micro-details. Sparkle and shimmer are more apparent on the THX amp while the Playmate II rolls off gradually for a darker background and greater contrast between foreground and background.
The beauty of the Playmate II is surely its ability to weave these elements together into a nuanced and spacious image. While its soundstage is not huge, it makes excellent use of its space with highly defined layers and excellent separation between foreground and background. It has an especially rounded presentation with vocals and foreground in clear focus and background elements pushed to its periphery. In turn, it feels far more spacious than it really is, often sounding a lot more spacious than my THX stack despite the 789 offering more width when called for by the track.
In addition, the imaging aids this impression greatly. Though this analysis is heavily subjective, I can see the appeal in the Burson’s sound with each note and directional cue flowing seamlessly into and out of the scene. Conversely, the THX amplifier with its higher note definition and more agile transient response seems to hyper-separate and in so doing, sacrifices the all-encompassing atmosphere delivered by the Playmate II. So, while the Burson isn’t especially sharp in terms of localisation, directional cues are clear and layering, as aforementioned, is a standout. The Playmate II has a very ethereal presentation with loads of atmosphere and character.