Now That’s Delight


 May 2009


On the night that Villanova clinches a spot in the men’s basketball Final Four with a runner in the last .5 seconds to upset the University of Pittsburgh, jazzheads and basketball fans crowd into the darkened space of the Regattabar in Cambridge, MA. to catch a glimpse of another small miracle of human achievement and joyful exuberance. We’ve come to listen to what violinist and vocalist extraordinaire Jenny Scheinman has up her sleeve tonight in concert. Scheinman is joined by guitarist Steve Cardenas (a frequent partner with Paul Motian’s Electric Bebop Band) and Ben Allison on acoustic bass. No drums in sight, but no matter, this is music that challenges the listener with its rhythmic energy and its unique employment of space, dynamics and shimmering colors. Like a diamond, Scheinman packs a huge amount of musical information into each one of her compositions. The piece could be a Klezmer, Polka or waltz. Or, as in this particular concert, several inspired pieces composed by Paul Motian with their dreamy, dense instrumental colors and contemplative melodies. All of this is fair game in Scheinman’s creative hands. In her live performance of “That’s Delight,” taken from her latest instrumental recording,Crossing The Field [Koch Records], Scheinman commences with a short comic phrase on her violin, with quick fits and starts. Yet suddenly, you find yourself drawn into this intriguing simple melody, echoed by Allison’s lithe plucks on acoustic bass. The conversation continues, with lots of comic pauses and silences. Further on, Cardenas develops a dense, looping solo on his electric guitar while Scheinman joins in by lashing her violin strings with one quick swoop of her bow, accentuating a newfound rhythm. This unusual bowing brings forth a new rhythmic direction to the entire conversation. Allison now runs nimbly up and down his acoustic bass (exploding at times with a frenetic slap of his strings), while Scheinman taps her red high heel shoes on the stage in rhythm with her sprite violin plucks and pizzicatos. The conclusion is reached when all parties have had their say, intricately weaving the original Americana melody into new directions with bluesy turns, trills, plucks, crescendos and comic silences. At its conclusion, the crowd erupts in laughter and applause. Delight indeed! And delight for this listener to return home and listen to Scheinman’s latest recordings on a system anchored by the Burmester 051 integrated amplifier, which itself shares quite a few traits with the creative musical brew that is Scheinman’s distinctive craft.

Delight in Form
The Burmester 051 integrated amplifier (“051”) is part of Burmester’s entry level “Rondo” line of products and is priced at $9495. Like Jenny Scheinman in concert, (who likes to offer a sly wink to her bandmates when she introduces a new melodic or rhythmic twist), Burmester’s founder, Dieter Burmester, is not without his own sly winks and nods to us audiophiles when it comes to the technical surprises hidden within the design of his 051. This little baby is chock full of design features, many of which it shares with all of Burmester’s more expensive electronics. For instance, the 051 is built around Burmester’s proprietary “X-AMP” technology. This unique technology is based on a signal path design that is fully balanced and DC coupled, with no capacitors employed in the signal path. The 051 utilizes an oversized active stabilized power supply with a 450 VA torodial transformer (with 70,000uF filter capacity). According to Burmester (which rates all of its products at true, continuous output, not peak), the rated frequency response of the 051 is 2Hz-200kHz, the damping factor is >800, and the amp is rated at 2 x 120W into 4Ω. Housed within a surprisingly compact enclosure, the 051 never felt remotely hot, even at punishing loads. Its compact dimensions, fairly light weight and sleek modern design set the 051 noticeably apart from those bulky and heavy integrated amplifiers from other manufacturers at this price point. The beauty and sophistication of the 051’s volume control should also be highlighted. It is built around sixty precise increments making for seamless volume adjustments, (particularly noticeable at very low volume levels).

This beautiful synergy between form and function is apparent in every aspect of the 051’s packed feature set. If you use headphones, you will love the 051’s headphone jack, which automatically shuts off speakers and reduces volume when headphones are in use. The 051 also offers separate tone and balance controls which were wonderfully precise, for example, in fine tuning listening at different distances and positions. There is also a surround input function that routs a signal directly to the power amp stages to compliment a surround processor. The 051 offers two pairs of preamp outputs for connecting other power amps or active loudspeakers and nicely spaces three balanced and two unbalanced line inputs for easy access. (A remote is also available, but not auditioned here). All of these features are incorporated into a product with impeccable fit and finish, right down to the 051’s solid brass, chrome plated faceplate. Dieter Burmester might well flash us another knowing wink here: The 051’s gleaming faceplate (which it shares with every Burmester amplifier) is actually an important design feature in that it acts as a heavy insulator to help maintain the integrity of the signal transmitted within. 

Delight In Function
I auditioned the 051 over many months in several different listening rooms and systems, with loudspeakers employing differing loads. My small office system utilized both Harbeth Monitor 30’s (with their enticing midrange richness) and Reference 3A Grand Veena floorstanders (with their great transparency and energetic sound). The larger listening room was anchored by the Hansen Prince V.2 loudspeakers, my favorites for spatial brilliance, ultimate dynamic energy and transparency, top to bottom. In addition, I had the special treat to hear the 051 driving the ultimate Big Boys: a pair of TAD Reference One Loudspeakers in the superb listening room operated by the sage and affable Maurice Schmir, he of Dyana Audio of Portland, Maine (www.dyanaaudio.com). 

Consistent in all of these listening environments was the fact that the 051 never skipped a beat, never showed signs of being overpowered with any high frequency darkness or lack of transparency to the source. The 051 easily revealed the “Emperor has no clothes!” sonic qualities of each individual system and the recordings employed, exposing each link in the chain for better or worse. Soundstage dimensions were consistently excellent, varying of course, with the components and dimensions of the room. Only when compared to my McIntosh 501 monoblock amplifiers (employing 500 watts per side!) did the 051 offer somewhat less dimensionality to the sides and depth, and a bit less bass control, when driving the spacious Prince V.2 loudspeakers. Maurice and I marveled at the diminutive 051’s ability to drive the massive TAD Reference One Loudspeakers (fronted by the warm yet incisive Accuphase DP-700 SACD-CD Player) with oodles of taught, deep bass and an effortless transparency that was ear catching and superb. Sure, Dyana Audio’s gorgeous sounding system composed of Accuphase gear (C-2810 preamp; two A-60 pure Class A amplifiers, bridged as monoblocks) clearly expanded the soundstage further than the 051, fleshed out more complex instrumental and vocal textures and added more air surrounding favorite orchestral recordings (particularly those superb recordings from Prof. Johnson and Reference Recordings). However, at the end of the day, both Maurice and I agreed that for thousands less, we could happily live with the One Box Wonder, the 051, driving the TAD Reference One until the Maine cows came home. 

And let me tell you, leaving home was not always easy, with the 051 beckoning with its special qualities. The 051 acted like a razor thin piece of ice formed over a running brook, where you can see right through the ice to all of the flowing air bubbles and water below, akin to the natural flow of music on any great recording. For a wonderful example of gorgeous musical ebb and flow, one should look no further than to the music composed for the Sackbutt. Yes, the Sackbutt- the Renaissance ancestor of the modern day Trombone, which, in the hands of a Sackbutt master like Jorgen van Rijen, becomes a vessel of metallic eloquence. Listening to Sackbutt [Channel Classics SACD 26708], the 051 presented Antonio Bertali’s “Sonata a 3” with crystal clear clarity, revealing its opening lute instrument, (a chitarrone), pulsating with natural crispness and frenetic pacing. In contrast to this whirling dervish, the Sackbutt enters regally, within its own natural space beside the chitarrone, pouring forth its breathy staccato notes in long pauses and outbursts. Instruments accompanying the virtuous Sackbutt were portrayed in their natural wood or brass outer garments without exaggeration in warmth or tonal coloration; from airy groups of light, staccato violins, to the chatter of pads closing holes on woody bassoons. All was light and frolic in Bertali’s piece for the Sackbutt with the 051 in place, as it should be. If one prefers a denser presentation of overtones and a significant added warmth to string and brass tone, one may not prefer the 051’s liquid lens, with its emphasis on speed, clarity and that special mining of a work’s natural pacing and flow. [I should refine this point by mentioning that in the case of the 051 driving the Harbeth Monitor 30’s (with their somewhat slower and rich midrange particularly on strings), I heard a distinct enlivening of the midrange and upper bass, a new level of speed and crispness that I had not heard before with the Harbeths.] The 051 proved to be grain free, completely devoid of upper frequency darkness on the chitarrone’s highest harmonic overtones and communicated the natural flow and rhythmic pacing of this complex Renaissance piece to toe tapping bliss. 

Speaking of toe tapping, the 051 took off to uncover the natural pacing and flow of music from all genres and walks of life, from the diaphanous plucking of the great African Kora by its master, Toumani Daibate on his latest recording,The Mande Variations[Nonesuch], to the differing piano styles of Robert Glasper, Laszlo Gardony and Anat Fort. The Daibate recording highlighted just how speedy and punctual the 051 was, stopping on a dime to reveal the inner workings of Daibate’s fingers on strings, his pressing here, his lingering there. Bass strings of the Kora were very resonant and softer in texture (not too dense or overly ripe) revealed against the high treble strings careening and sparkling forth. The 051 was so revealing of this inner detailing and natural pacing that it was a revelation to later read in the liner notes that Daibate had substituted some of the nylon strings (which are actually fishing line) in the bass strings of his Kora with harp strings, thus adding further resonance and a “haunting quality” to the Kora’s bass. Amazing that the 051, in combination with the superb digital sources employed, fleshed this all out before an explanation was revealed.

This same alacrity of the 051 to reveal music’s natural underpinnings of rhythm and flow, was demonstrated in listening to favorite piano recordings, whether Classical, Jazz or Jelly Roll. One emerging young Maestro on piano is the exuberant Taylor Eigsti, who on his latest recording, Let It Come To You [Concord] lays it all down with a great combination of passion and nuance. On the lovely ballad “Not Ready Yet,” Eigsti and guitarist extraordinaire Julian Lage pair up to swirl in and out of each other in beautiful, serpentine lines and long held harmonics. Listening through the 051, this ballad was made a complete and intelligible Whole. First, there was provided a grain free transparency to all of the creative action going on, from Reuben Roger’s resonant bass solo to the twinkling of Eigsti’s high, gentle notes. Just as important, this musical action was revealed taking place within a time accurate landscape, captured beautifully by Eric Harlan’s steadfast cymbals pacing the natural flow of the piece and heard deep in the soundstage. When Eigsti pressed down on certain keys and paused for a moment (to emphasize a color or feeling), the 051 allowed one to hear that pause in time and space perfectly, revealing the quiet, nuanced statement Eigsti was laying down to softly propel his piano solo forward. 

Let us conclude with vocals, and yes, let us return to Jenny Scheinman, for her new self-titled vocal recording, (also on Koch Records), is another creative revelation. Start up “Twilight Time” and the 051 slowly Rocks with the best, pulsing with tight electric bass and crisp time keeping from Kenny Wollesen’s pinpoint sticks on his high hat. Scheinman’s voice slithers and creeps around these instruments, lurching upward with fluid grain-free freedom, and then pausing, (using her creative pacing to surprise) to reach lower down. True to form, the 051 does not add any excess warmth or detected coloration to Scheinman’s lithe voice, but hones in on the macro and micro musical action as well as the unusual pacing of the song. For instance, the 051 captures how Scheinman, (on this particularly slow, bluesy ditty), almost slurs together her vocals and her step-by-step movement to higher or lower octaves to create a slow, languid vocal presentation that compliments perfectly the mood of the song.

Delight Indeed!
Burmester’s proprietary X-AMP technology, capturing just a little bit more of the integrity of that elusive signal, might very well be the reason the 051 is such a special piece. The 051 succeeded in capturing all the rhythmic quirks and flow of great music, (including the natural pauses, silences and dynamic increments of instruments and voices) which makes our favorite recordings sound so joyfully present and vital. The 051 accomplished this feat better than any integrated amplifier I have auditioned to date. And, just as importantly, it may have accomplished this feat without adding any additional tonal colorations to the source, as far as I could detect. For these special qualities, I could live with the 051 as the centerpiece of a two channel or surround system for years to come, listening to Scheinman’s music well beyond “the afterglow of day – Twilight Time.” Now, that’s Delight!

Burmester 051 Specifications
Output Power: at 4 Ohm 2 x 120W
Frequency Response: -3dB: 2Hz-200kHz
Input Impedance: balanced¬¬=22kOhm; unbalanced=22kOhm
Power Consumption: on=450W; standby=25W
Dimensions: 3.7”(h); 19”(w); 13.4”(depth)
Weight: 30.8 lbs. 
Price: $9495 

Company Information
Audiophile Systems, Ltd. (US Distributor)
P.O. Box 50710
Indianapolis, IN 46250-0710
Tel: (317)-841-4100
Website: www.aslgroup.com
E-mail: aslinfo@aslgroup.com

Burmester Audiosysteme GmbH
Kolonnenstr. 30 G Germany-10829 Berlin
Tel: +49-(0)30-787968-0
Website: www.burmester.de


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