Competition Hardware Descriptions:

While looking at the hardware below, keep in mind that the Play can do everything that the discrete rig below can do. By discrete, I mean we have dedicated components: ES9038 DAC, USB Interface/XMOS, Power Amplifier, etc. This is one of the huge plus categories for the Play, cost effectiveness. For HiFi on a budget the $299 Play is hard to beat, especially knowing what you can get it to do with discrete op-amps!

Update: 6/25/18:

I have managed to run down 6 replacement capacitors for the Nichicon Muse stock caps below in the FUN01 XMOS module. Interested in finding out how this can/or if it will cause a change in the sound signature or quality. I found some Rubycon Black Gate™ “F” Series 100uF 25V (exact replacements to those installed below). I have never  bought any Black Gates™ before because the cost of entry is usually so high, but I did once find some of the Non-Polar X (NX) versions for about $35 each, which is really good (same rating as these). Still looking for a good place to use those insanely good capacitors, but non-polar caps are pretty rare these days in digital audio circuits.

I really lucked out on this latest seller, because I found out that despite the fact they have been soldered in a PCB before, it was never used. They removed the capacitors from new circuit boards and as a result, besides testing, the capacitors are all new! These carry a price tag around $50-$100 on Ebay for NOS or New (Other) or New, expect about a 50% price drop for used. Or you can do like I do and sit and wait, always looking but only buying when you truly spot something worth your money. New Black Gate™ F Series capacitors for $20 a piece? Sure! Read a little more here.

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This is a great shot of the FUN01 v1.1 XMOS module that is a clone of the MUCH more costly Singxer SU-1. I have heard it debated all day long and for the cost difference there is no question for me. I can’t afford to blow $500+ on just the XMOS device, haha. Notice how even the split GND plane was carried over?

I am providing some stout competition for the lonely “Play”. I will be utilizing my ES9038Pro DAC by ESS + “FUN01” v1.1 XMOS module (identical to Singxer’s SU-1). To keep this as even as possible, I will be making almost all head-to-head headphone comparisons using a single amplifier, when I’m using the internal Play amp I will notify the reader. The amp used on most parts is my S.M.S.L. “sAp-10” (a completely balanced headphone amplifier). Offering 2x 3-Pin XLR in + RCA in, with 1x 4-Pin XLR out and ¼” out. All loudspeaker comparisons will be made using my Pioneer “VSX-919AH” (4-Star WhatHiFi Winner) or my Yamaha “RX-V863” (I try both in the review), powering a pair of Wharfedale’s “Diamond 220” bookshelf speakers (5-Star WhatHiFi Winner). Throughout the review, Burson Audio’s impedance matching RCA-to-RCA Cable+™ will be connected between my modded Kenwood C-2 pre-amp (more on that here) and the power amplifier in use.

Wharfedale 220 Award Pic

See how small the Burson Play is in comparison?

I will confirm observations I hear over the loudspeakers with my Audeze “EL-8” planar magnetic headphones; to make sure there is really a tonal shift, or distortion, etc. The EL-8 “space-age material” diaphragms (thinner than a human hair) lay above the Uniforce™ voice-coils, which give what Audeze calls, “near zero distortion”, making the EL-8s a perfect choice for reviewing high-end hardware where reference quality and flat frequency response is required!

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The EL-8 also uses “patented Fluxor™ Magnet Arrays giving near double the power driving the diaphragm for even less distortion” along with Fazor™ elements as waveguides for a more “accurate waveform”. That is not to say the Wharfedale “Diamond 220” speakers are anything but exceptional. They blow away my Polk ”70s” in fidelity.


We want flat frequency response because anything other than that is in effect, an EQ on the incoming signal. In reality, there is always some amount of EQ from the speakers or headphones, especially the speakers. As the Art of Digital Audio says, transducers, especially in loudspeakers, are what hold back audio the most from the next leap in innovation.


The “sAp-10” is a new device at Hallman Labs in a category of products I have been researching, balanced headphone amplifiers. This sAp-10 is an impressive piece of hardware, especially for only $199 (Amazon in May of 2018). The sAp-10 uses twin TI TPA6120A2 headphone amps, a TRIAD (FP24-500) US built transformer on board (and shielded), JRC NJW1195 four channel digital volume control with balanced phase, 2x Panasonic TQ2SA-3V Relays to prevent clicks/pops in output, 10x EPCOS (Siemens) film coupling capacitors, 3300uF Nichicon FW power supply capacitors and a lot more name brand parts.

SMSL sAp_10 with text

This is a step up from my Schiit Audio “Magni2” ($99 at launch) and a good fit for this review since the amplifier in the Burson Play is so strong (with V6-OPA Classics). Running a dedicated amplifier ensures that we are only reviewing the DACs. As long as your DAC combo has analog outputs, such as RCA or XLR jacks, you can always bypass the internal amp. For the purposes of being fair/unbiased, I will be using RCA outs on both DACs since the Play doesn’t have XLR, also known as “balanced” outputs, like the ES9038 DAC does. This also keeps the exact same wiring for both DACs, including the Burson Cable+™ RCA-to-RCA cable.

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SMSL Sap 10 info

Component Details of sAp-10


The only difference between the two setups is the fact that the Play uses I2S (Inter-IC Sound) from the USB module and the ES9038 is still using coax from its XMOS. This was remedied before the review was finished, but not too long before. For the majority of the time all tracks in DSD were down-sampled to DSD64 (in foobar2000) because that is the maximum that the FUN01 can handle over Coax with the ES9038Pro using DoP (DSD over PCM). Note: this is how the review was run the majority of the time, even though it was corrected towards the end of the review.



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