Originally posted 11/24/21.
- 3/14/22. Gaming/adapter impressions and overall recommendation update.
Greetings chap and Welcome aboard. Stuart Charles here, HomeStudioBasics.com helping YOU make sound decisions leading to a beautiful audio experience that will make you fall in love with music (NOT gear), all over again, so…
In The Box
Burson Playmate 2
24V Power Brick
USB-C to USB-C Cable
(2) V6 Vivid Dual Op-Amp Replacements
Hex Wrench Hand Tool
- Price: Check Amazon!
- Amp Type: Class A, 3Wpc
- Volume Control: Up to 100 steps
- DAC Chip: ESS Sabre9038Q2M
- USB Input: Xmos, the most advanced digital processors money can buy (according to Burson)
- DSD Support: Yes, Up to DSD512
- PCM: Up to 32-bit/768kHz
- Headphone Inputs: 6.35mm (1/4″), 3.5mm
- Inputs: Optical (Toslink, 24-bit/192kHz), USB Type-C
- Outputs: RCA
- Chassis: Machined Aluminum Heatsink Enclosure
- Op-Amp Swap: Yes
- Replacement Op-Amps Provided: Add-on only
What’s the deal with the Playmate?
Big thanks to Bhavneet over at Burson for reaching out and asking me if I wanted to demo this unit!
As many readers and subscribers know, my disdain for Amps & DACS is growing larger by the day, but I decided this one seemed pretty cool and interesting so I gave it a whirl.
What makes it so interesting?
First off, the chassis is striking but still rather utilitarian.
It also utilizes a USB-C connection which I found odd. Provided is a USB-C to USB-C cable so no worries there.
I’m really fortunate that my Lenovo X1 Extreme actually has a couple of USB-C inputs on the left side or I’d be SOL.
I’m not entirely sure if most newer laptops have them, but I can tell you without a doubt that I’ve never owned a computer or laptop that had a C slot in the past.
Pretty much every DAC out of the 55+ that I’ve demoed either came with a USB Type-B, Type-A, or Micro inputs.
Aside from that, the back also boasts an optical input and a pair of RCA outs for use with separate speakers or a separate amplifier.
So, the Playmate 2 is an Amp/DAC combo that can also be used as a preamp or DAC.
The third reason I was intrigued is because of the optical input (with up to 24-bit/192kHz resolution).
I’ve been having a blast playing Fallout 4 on console and comparing the other DACS I have here at the pad, which I will mention later in an A/B/C comparison.
I finally decided to obtain the elusive Platinum trophy, and it’s been fun using the Playmate in the process.
On the front, there’s your standard 6.35mm (1/4″), a 3.5mm jack, the digital LED interface, the volume potentiometer, and 2 buttons on the left and right side.
The left-most button is for power, while the right button controls the interface and input options.
To enter in:
- Press the right button.
- Press the Volume Pot in. It’s a soft click and feels rather nice.
- Use the Volume pot to scroll between Toslink (Optical) and USB.
- Do the same for output, etc.
- Once you’ve settled on the input/output, etc., press the Volume Pot button again to save.
- To exit out, press the right-most button again.
The Playmate 2 is very intuitive and you shouldn’t have an issue setting everything up.
Provided are a 24V power supply and USB-C cable for use with your laptop. If you want to use the Playmate with a console, you’ll have to supply your own optical cable.
For the price, I would have liked to see one included in the package. Also included in the package is the Gaming adapter which splits the audio and microphone.
The problem is that the adapter doesn’t work correctly.
I tried using it for FPS gaming with a mic, and the sound doesn’t split the audio correctly which results in a horrendous sound – think fuzz, static, extremely low volume, etc.
You can see the adapter in the image above.
Basically, all you’re doing is plugging that into the front and then plugging your microphone into the right side and your headphones into the left.
For the demo, I used a Philips SHP9500 with a Boom Pro. The Boom Pro comes with a supplied female to dual male, so in theory, the Playmate with its dual female inputs should have worked perfectly and didn’t.
I did make sure that both 3.5mm males were going into the right slots as well, as they’re labeled accordingly on the male ends.
To test further, I tried the same method but used a K5 Pro instead of the Burson.
Same issue. Crackling/fuzzy/distorted sound and very low volume + the bass frequencies didn’t come through either. I didn’t really feel comfortable raising the volume too much.
If you know what’s causing this issue please let me know down below in the comments. Otherwise, I believe it to simply be a faulty and/or poorly made adapter as I have no issues with the Boom Pro and my go-to recommendation for gaming in the SoundBlaster G6.
To put it simply, I think the gaming function here was simply a value add-on but wasn’t thought through all that well.
I do like the fact that you can take the cover off and replace the Op-Amps inside if you wish. This adds a cool customizable element that not many DACS provide.
To do that, use the supplied Hex wrench and remove the topmost screws on either side of the unit.
Then gently lift the chassis which reveals the DACS’ insides.
The 2 center Op-Amps are the Low-pass filtration. The signal from the DAC gets filtered through the Op-Amps and eventually the capacitors.
The 2 outside Op-Amps are responsible for the current/voltage amplification. The signal comes out of the DAC and goes to the outside Op-Amps and then the inside ones.
Burson provided to me 2 V6 Vivid Dual Op-Amps (discreet and house-made) for your rolling enjoyment. Just remove the outside 2 and replace them with the Red ones.
I only received 2 in the package, but you can replace all 4.
Do they alter the sound? More on that in a bit.
The Playmate 2 utilizes a max current power supply, filtering DC input and providing clean power throughout the system.
This is in contrast to the typical linear supply that most other DACS use, but does this help matters any in terms of the actual listening experience?
I’d say yes, ever so slightly.
Even before I learned of its unique protocol, I found the Playmate 2 to have just a tad better separation and clarity throughout the audible range.
In other words, it will be noticeable to you if you have a discerning ear, but it’s also quite subtle.
I’m afforded a great opportunity to be able to distinguish these minute characteristics due to the sheer number of DACS I’ve used + the fact that I have always had above-average hearing.
Still can’t hear the grass growing yet, though. I’m working on it. 🤣
This slight change can no doubt also be attributed to the Playmate’s inclusion of the ESS9038 Q2M Sabre chip, which if you’ll recall is likely my favorite out of everything I’ve heard.
I’ve always had an affinity for the ESS chip and this time around it’s no different. Almost everything is just a smidgen better: Imaging, separation, and width most notably.
The ESS chip is known for having a pronounced stereo image, clean signal, and somewhat sterile profile which is clearly on display here as well.
Some accuse it of having too much glare (read: the “Sabre glare”) and while I can certainly understand the sentiment, I don’t really find it over the top. By contrast, a unit like The K5 Pro utilizes the AKM chip, which provides more of a velvety, smooth sound that I also enjoy.
Of course, as I’ve always harped on, the source file is of the utmost importance here, but I’d be lying to you if I said the Playmate didn’t outclass a lot of other units I’ve heard.
Burson offers the option of altering the sound in a few different ways:
DPLL (Digital Phase Lock Loop)
This basically helps with jitter. For more info on what Jitter is, refer to my article on Asynchronous USB.
There are a few different filters here, and I’ll be honest with you, during my demo it stayed on LP Fast. I played with some of these options and didn’t hear any real differences. Take that for what it’s worth.
The Playmate 2 is plenty powerful so no worries there either. Here are some numbers:
- 16 Ohm: 3.5W (3,500mW), 7.5V, 467.7 mA
- 32 Ohm: 2.5W (2,500mW), 8.9V, 279.5 mA
- 100 Ohm: 0.6W (600mW), 7.7V, 77.5 mA
- 300 Ohm: 0.15W (150mW), 6.7V, 22.4 mA
One issue I had – and something also apparent in xDuoo’s TA-20 – is the lack of responsiveness in the volume knob.
I don’t know why this is common in some higher-priced gear, but when you turn it fast it doesn’t quite keep up. In other words, the numbers don’t move up as fast and can even go back as you’re turning.
A minor nit-pick but should be noted.
- Headphones Used: HIFIMAN Arya, HIFIMAN HE400se, AKG K702, Sennheiser HD58X
- Source: Spotify, PS4
- Playlist: Here!
It is said that replacing the 2 inside Op-Amps helps with the “glare” or harshness that some accuse the Sabre chip of having while replacing the outside 2 Op-Amps cause the Soundstage to be less wide.
In other words, more like you’re listening to speakers at a 30-degree angle.
Replacing the 2 outside Op-Amps also allegedly mimics the AKM sound; i.e. smoother, warmer, and slightly more “velvety”, with less forward and more neutral mids as well as a less grainy top end. This is at the expense of less separation of instruments.
Oh no, more word salad.
Do I find this to be an accurate explanation?
Well, let’s take it apart and find out.
Don’t worry about forgetting which way it went in. The Amp will clearly let you know as the screw holes won’t be lined up. Just turn it around and proceed.
Also make sure that on the right side, the V6 Vivid (Red) is facing toward you while the left side faces backward.
This will ensure the right and left channels both come through. You should be able to read the text on the right while the left is facing away from you.
The differences are certainly there. I did find The V6 Op-Amps to improve on that glare issue, but it’s pretty subtle.
Keep in mind I only received 2 V6 Vivid Dual Op-Amps, and not the other 2.
During KRS-One’s “MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know” The cowbell-ish type hi-hat during the hook sounds less bright with the replacement Op-Amps in place, but I don’t know if this is my imagination.
As a whole, the sound does come off a bit warmer than with the stock Op-Amps.
As expected, I’m finding the stock sound to have better separation and clarity – something I prefer over a warmer tone even despite enjoying both.
I think at times the Sabre glare can be a detriment, but it mostly depends on the track and I’ve always preferred it over other DAC chips. This is in large part why I enjoy Playmate so much.
The burning question is that of price to performance.
The cost of the Playmate in stock form (without the extra Op-Amps) is around $544 without the extras (Remote + Op-Amps)
With the remote and Op-Amps?
You’ll be shelling out an extra $200 or so.
Playmate 2 vs. Zen DAC vs. G6
As mentioned previously, I did quite a bit of gaming and, as of 11/23/21, nearing the completion of Fallout 4 and the platinum trophy.
I’ve been enjoying this game for the better part of 6 years now, but I figured it was time to put it to bed once and for all.
If there is a difference, it’s so minuscule that to me it doesn’t matter much. Voices, sounds, gunshots, music, ambiance, etc. all sound roughly the same. As in, you probably aren’t going to hear much of a difference and even if you do, you may not care.
While I did find a pretty noticeable difference listening to music (in terms of the Sabre chip vs. Burr Brown), in gaming it’s much harder for me to discern.
So, is the Playmate ultimately worth the asking price?
This is a lot closer than I was expecting, but I’m still leaning towards no especially given the issues with the gaming adapter.
I personally don’t care much about rolling Op-Amps, and while the remote is cool, both are an extra $200. No thanks.
At its current asking price of around $500+, there’s still nothing about the Burson that really jumps out at me.
I have the Zen or G6 if I want to do some console gaming, and the sound of the Playmate – while excellent for general music listening, isn’t worth over $500 even with the inclusion of the ESS chip (admittedly a favorite of mine).
In other words, I may really like the Sabre chip, but I’m not forking over an extra $400 or so for it. That’s crazy. If I want to hear that type of sound, I’ll just listen to the DragonFly Red that I have here.
Both the G6 and Zen are plug and play USB, so I don’t have to worry about an optical cable as I do with the Playmate.
When the Cobalt came out, I didn’t find it to be worth an extra $100 over the DragonFly Red. Both of those utilize an ESS chip, but I still recommend the Red to this day and have never told someone to buy a Cobalt as I thought that was a clear misstep from AudioQuest. There was simply no need for it.
Such is the case here with the Playmate 2.
My recommendation? I think the G6 is what you’ll want if you’re doing a lot of FPS gaming with a mic. I like the Zen, but it’s currently overpriced and I won’t be recommending it unless it comes back down.
For an all-in-one solution and a much better value than the Playmate, the K9 Pro is my top recommendation overall.
Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this Burson Playmate 2 Review and came away with some valuable insight.
Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Please let me know down below or Contact me!!
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All the best and God bless,