ES9038 on I2S + RCA out & Play using internal amp

Adele Live at Royal Hall screen
Courtesy of Amazon

Adele Live at the Royal Albert Hall Blu-Ray (DTS-HD MA 5.1 to LCPM 2.0)

I have to admit I am a fan of Adele, she is one of the most powerful and spine tingling voices still with us. This Blu-Ray is an excellent showcase of her talents, from the power of “Don’t You Remember” to the country melody of the cover “If it Hadn’t Been for Love”, Adele never leaves you disappointed with this live album. I start out on the Burson Play using the internal amp into my EL-8s and there isn’t even a hint of distortion, noise, pop, cracks, etc. The EL-8s are so transparent on this album with the Burson Play, yet they maintain the body and depth of a live album. From the realism of the Royal Albert Hall echoes (time for a note to decay) captured, to the texture of her voice, this album transports you to London. Accurate imaging and timbre of the instruments intertwined with the powerful vocals, make this one of my favorite “reference” albums.

On the track “Turning Tables” we are greeted with a very rich and textured voice, thanks to Adele. The piano on this track seems to surround the vocals of Adele on both sides and the violins come in from what seems to be higher (off the ground) than the vocals and piano, like birds swooping in from on high. Switching to one of the higher paced tracks, “Rumor Has It” brings the bass and body without losing the precision of this album. This is one of the best tracks to hear the dynamic range and the snap/speed of transient response of the album. (Transients as defined by Head-Fi “the leading edge of a percussive sound. Good transient response makes the sound as a whole more live and realistic.”) In contrast, a bad transient response would come off smeared or muddy.

Courtesy of Amazon

I switch over to the ES9038P + FUN01 and finally the ES9038P is able to pull ahead in the upper-mid to high frequency territory. I think the ES9038P has a better balance on this album than the Play does (tone controls are off on C-2) and it has better low level detail. At the top of the SPL (Sound Pressure level) the sound has a warmth and texture to it that is slightly lacking on the Play. It’s like you dialed the presence knob up when going between the Play to the ES9038P. To those who don’t play guitar, presence means how “close” the sound seems to you. Neither setups are really lacking, but we are doing a comparison here, which is far from easy with how strong each of the setups are.

I flip to the cover, “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and from the first note you feel like you are standing there watching her. The sweetness of her voice shines through on this track while maintaining pitch across her unbelievable vocal range. Only a few artist before her could even compete with her capacity and vocal stamina, such as Aretha Franklin or Whitney Houston. The overall realism of this album is up there with some of the best, from the echo of her voice around the hall to the crowd singing on the track “One and Only”. The dynamic range could be glass shattering, yet I don’t feel my ears getting tired/fatigued (when played at a reasonable level). Now we go back to the Play and cue up the song “I’ll Be Waiting”, as if on cue the chills go down my spine. It’s very hard to describe these changes in sound quality. It’s almost the way it “feels” vs. how it sounds, people use the word “musicality” to describe this sensation. The Play seems to have slightly more body to the sound, the small details seem more focused or just come out with less effort.

Courtesy of YouTube

I noticed when I was playing the album over DTS-MA 5.1 (into LPCM 2.0) I kept hearing what sounded like sibilant distortion, but when I flipped to Dolby 2.0 it stopped instantly. This tells me that this issue has to do with down-sampling 5.1 into stereo using PowerDVD 17 Ultra. For whatever reason, this issue doesn’t seem to bother the ES9038P combo as prominently. Once I had that issue figured out I was left with a hard decision to make, deciding which DAC wins this section. There is a small downside for the Play, it lacks the complete blackness of the ES9038P’s background, even in between notes you can hear this difference. However, this is not a detail that you’d notice right off the bat, maybe not even the first few times playing the album. Still, for this reason I have to give this section to the ES9038P. If not for this little difference I would have called it a tie.

Courtesy of YouTube

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