March 19, 2011

Art For The Ear, Burmester 808 MK V Pre Amp.

The Burmester 808 MK V is a big pre amp, it didn't fit in to my normal sized rack. I left it sitting on a free standing isolation rack.

Ever since I heard this Burmester 808 MK V pre amp in my friend's place, I've been hooked! Or so I taught, because another buddy who listened to that same system, was quietly looking out to buy one already! Talk about a quiet revolution.

Things aren't just so simple however, because like most of us, he is firmly ground to the terra firma, monetary wise. A brand new Burmester 808 MK V in basic configuration would easily set one back poorer by RM$95k or so, and one that's similar spec to this unit pushes the price well in the to 6 figure mark!!!

You see, this Burmester is not just another hi-end pre amp, it's a pre amp that's virtually obsolete proof(as it should be, when it cost more than 100 Gs!)in concept. This pre amp comes in basic modular configuration, and should one require XLR inputs, phono stage, and extra output cards(XLR or other wise), or any other card that Dieter Burmester can think of, all one has to do is to order another card to do the job, at cost.

My buddy who has quietly waited for 2 years, and finally chanced upon this unit recently in the pre-owned(used) market. This pristine condition set, equipped with XLR inputs and outputs, and an MC2 phono stage option, cost him a little more than 60Gs, but when I saw his eyes light up in amazement, when he played his first LP, you know, it's all worth it!

Felix(not the owner), always have a way with words, he tells me, "Beg, Borrow, Steal(maybe not), if you have to!" when something this good comes along. I took his advise as usual, but I only begged, and borrowed, stealing is something I do not do(it's also against the law!).

That's how this unit ended up in my place, just immediately after the mighty Ayre KX-R left my man cave, so if any comparison here, is strictly un-avoidable, as I did not even have a chance to hook up my usual Pass Labs X2.5.
This is an excellent re-mastered LP. It features all the usual bug bears of a live recording, signal drop outs, hiss, hum, and wandering musicians! All vividly captured in this 1961 recording. Ben Webster at his best?

This is a magnificent pre amp indeed, it's built is robust and design is simply classic. A thoroughly 3D design too! The front fascia and top plate is mirror polished with knobs on both panels too. The rear panel is all inputs and output jacks. This Burmester pre amp comes with a hefty external power supply unit(with matching mirror polished finishing), connected to the main unit via a solid shielded umbilical cord, keeping A/C away from the audio signal path altogether.

This knobs laden pre amp totally opposite of the spartan looking Ayre KX-R. The big, brick like(feels heavy as one too) hand held remote is finished in again, matching mirror finish of the main units.
All three side of accessible panels are used. The usual front panel knobs, the left knob is for source select, the middle knob is for gain setting, and the right knob is for volume. There's a subtle source/volume indicator display just below the mirror polished front panel. The top knobs are for independent input/output level matching adjustment. This is a serious stereo pre amp and there's no unity input to accommodate HT systems.

If one has a respectable LP playback system, then it's easy to appreciate this Burmester apex design. My buddy had already configured the MC2 phono card to match my Benz Micro LP cartridge, so it was a matter of plug and play when I got home. The phono stage is the quietest I've ever had the pleasure to use, totally free from noise of any sort, no hum, hiss or LP surface noise is audible during play back. I put on my newly acquired Ben Webster, At The Renaissance, a recently re-issued LP. Immediately, I was captivated by the life likeness of the live performance, at a smoky jazz bar. In jazz music, the reproduction of the horn is no easy business. Sure one can easily hear that it's a saxophone being played, but to hear the most minute details of mouth piece, breath and finger technique, plus the air rushing out of that horn in a brassy, golden burnished tone is a whole new different level of appreciating the artist's performance altogether. That horn must sound intoxicating, and lusty even, if it's to be reproduced in it's most delicate, yet enjoyable level. It shows the level of startling transparency that this Burmester offers.

The Burmester 808 MK V is totally accurate tonally, that it pretty much disappears from the equipment chain. Compared to the Ayre KX-R before it, the Ayre exhibited slightly more extended, refined, and sweeter highs. The Burmester counters the Ayre with more solid and dimensional mid range. The Burmester also seemed to dive deeper, and harder in to the bass region. The only thing that keeps reminding that I am listening to a recording of a live performance, is the way this pre amp re-produces a sound stage. It portrays sound stage in a slightly animated, CG(Computer Graphic enhanced) manner, in terms of imaging positioning and solidity within the sound stage. By comparison, the Ayre KX-R before it, gave a slightly more au natural sound stage, with just a swish more "air" around each specific image in the sound stage. I found both equally enjoyable, but ended up preferring the Burmester's more "graphic" sound staging and imaging qualities, others may and would certainly beg to differ.

The Burmester, being a proud German that it is, re-produces transient and dynamics of orchestra climaxes with ease. Listening to Symphonic Dances, conducted by Eiji Oue on Reference Recordings hi-rez down load is like sitting thru a roller coaster thrill ride. I enjoy thrill rides, more so the emotional kind, with it comes to music.

As I only had a weekend with the Burmester, it was rather sad to see it go back to my buddy's place. I know, all good things must come to an end, including this Art For The Ear experience. For a 10 year old(20 years, if you count the original 808 and the subsequent MK II & III, there's no MK IV by the way) design, the Burmester still holds it's musical performance par excellence, amongst the highest of hi-end designs today.
The matching finished power supply unit, the umbilical cord and remote.

My buddy(the owner of this unit) has recently found out that our local Burmester dealer, Music By Design has an ex-demo unit of the Burmester 808 MK V for sale at an attractive price.

For further info, call Simon Choy at 03-79541882, if one is interested in joining this exclusive club.

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