Switching from the SMSL sAp-10 + ES9038P + XMOS FUN01 combo to the Burson Play DAC/Amp combo has a noticeable tonal shift. I first noticed a high frequency extension of what seems to be an upper-mid to high frequency focused lift found in the Burson Play’s voicing (w/ V6-OPA “Classics”), not heard as prominently as in the other combo. I checked this with both DACs, the ES9038P + sAp-10 has slightly better low frequency extension and a mid-range lift vs. the slightly higher and a tad more detailed lift on the Burson Play DAC/Amp.

I matched the volumes as close as possible without having to hook up the oscilloscope or multi-meter, by using the modded Kenwood C-2 (which has 2x V6-OPA-D “Vivid” op-amps running in the EQ amp and Flat Amp + 4x replaced stock 18V diodes with 16V Zener diodes, more on that here). I also tried running 2x V5-OPA-S in the flat-amp using an adapter and flexible DIP-8 extensions. I ended up preferring the tone of the dual V5-OPA-S over the single V6-OPA-D “Vivid”.

Kenwood C-2 Pre-Amp with Discrete Op-Amps
Inside of my modded Kenwood C-2 Pre-Amp with Burson Audio V5-OPA op-amps installed. The 16V Diode mod is required to use modern op-amps safely.

The Kenwood C-2 has been instrumental in this review, matching volumes with its 4-gang ALPS potentiometer and matching voicings through its above average tone controls (running on 2x V5i-D op-amps). When we flip the ES9038P from RCA to XLR in the later parts of the review, we find that the RCA outputs are darker, with less sparkle. I bring up small details like this to ensure I give an unbiased and clear opinion.

Burson Audio Plac DAC v2.0 + V6-OPA Classics
Close-up of Burson Audio’s Play with V6-OPA Classics

The Burson Play’s performance in a movie or TV show usually comes off as more engaging, the upper-mid to high frequency extension causes environmental effects to echo/reflect around the room easier when using loudspeakers. In headphones they help give sound that extra sparkle and high frequency detail. Others may find the higher frequency focus as a distraction from the ideal flat line response, but at a time when High Resolution audio is king, I can understand the voicing selection.

We are also talking about Burson Audio V6-OPA “Classic” (5 of them) in the Play vs. Sparkos Labs SS3601 and SS3602 (two pair) in the ES9038P. Every single op-amp selection/swap is going to change the overall tone of the sound when used in system critical positions, like these components do. As I learned after the initial review was written, the digital interface used and whether or not you are using balanced or unbalanced inputs/outputs, all have an impact on voicing and sound stage. I was surprised to learn that XLR (balanced) vs. RCA (unbalanced) had more of an impact on sound quality than Coax vs. I2S did.

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