The sound is the pinnacle of refinement and elegance. There’s a real sense of beauty to the sound, too, but it isn’t so refined and graceful that it loses any sense of real-world dynamics and grip. The CD player is the star of the show, of course. It creates a sense of musical structure and refinement that you will struggle to find from any digital player, regardless of price. There’s an inner detail and tonality that really picks up the interplay of musicians in ‘I’ve Been To Memphis’ from Joshua Judges Ruth by Lyle Lovett and makes the almost ambient Anouar Brahem album The Astounding Eyes of Rita truly hypnotic in approach. What Chris Thomas said in issue 78 still holds today. It’s a captivating CD player, one that helps redefine what the medium is capable of, and the kind of player that has few rivals. Put simply, it draws you in and keeps you there.
The 089 is good enough to sound good on an old plank of wood, but the better the support, the better the playback. It’s not ‘fussy’ in that sense, but think of it as a high performance device, one that demands a similarly high performance from all it works with; just as you probably wouldn’t put remoulds on a Ferrari, you wouldn’t want to put a player this good on any ol’ support. While Burmester makes its own rack, at this level, you should be considering Stillpoints or similar.
What’s surprising though is not the 089. It’s a known benchmark. It’s the 948 that goes with it, and what it does to the sound that’s really exciting. It helps reinforce that refinement of the 089. It also does the same to practically anything it plugs to; it ‘Burmestered’ a good Primare all-in-one, making the sound smoother but no less dynamic and more captivating. When inserted into the Burmester system, it gave everything an additional layer of insight and involvement. With the Primare, the improvement was somewhat fundamental, although with the Burmester it was more like the final coat on an already glossy finish.
The amplifier sealed the deal. It did more than just hired muscle, but it helped balance the refined refinement of the 089+948 combination. This was every inch the big-small power amp everyone wishes they could own; an amplifier that thinks it’s a 30 watter when it comes to transient speed and dynamic shading, but knows it’s got a few hundred watts in reserve when it needs to move air, tough speaker loads, for bottom end grunt and dynamic range. The net result is a deft touch; a goldilocks amp that’s not too big, not too small. It’s also a clean detail resolver of exceptional quality. I’ve had relatively limited exposure to the bigger Burmester amps, but from what I’ve heard, this amp has exactly the same tonal character to bigger designs in the range, just faster, a lot less power and a smidgen less bass.
If that gives the perception that this Burmester package sounds bass shy, I want to put this one to rest fast. The system isn’t bass light. It’s fast and can go surprisingly deep. It grips the loudspeakers tight, if perhaps not to the steel jaw levels of its bigger brothers. But here’s the thing; take the Burmester system to a pair of loudspeakers you know well and see if you can find the brightness or bass lightness. It just isn’t there.
Burmester creates an effective complete system, but it also makes for an excellent ‘complete system… just add loudspeakers’ package. That said, Burmester frequently gets overlooked in this manner because the company demonstrates all-Burmester systems in shows. The B25 is an excellent loudspeaker in its own right, but unlike the rest of the Burmester equipment, it isn’t as universal. I can see this system forming from any one of the components in the system. I can imagine inserting CD, power amp or power conditioner in a previous mix, and it’s just a matter of time before the other aspects of that power trio appear too. The loudspeakers, on the other hand, are the last link in the chain for the Burmester user, not a starting place.
This is surprising because they are fundamentally honest sounding loudspeakers, with an exceptionally open treble and possessed of excellent imagery. They do, however, create a very narrow sweet spot, both in the horizontal and vertical axes, and there is some over-emphasis to bass guitar – perhaps that is hardly surprising; Dieter Burmester is a keen bass player, after all.
Finally, I want to kill off this crazy concept that permeates the UK in particular; the idea of the ‘German Sound’. It’s xenophobia, dressed up in audiophile garb. There is nothing about this system that restricts it to playing ‘Ooom-pah’ music, it isn’t ‘ruthlessly efficient’. It doesn’t ‘sweep majestically eastward’ and doesn’t put its towel on the sun-lounger at 4am. What it does is make good sound. It makes it well, and it makes it with the sort of build quality that means you’ll be listening to Burmester equipment 25 years after almost anything else this side of an SME turntable gave up the ghost. That part of the German myth – the one that says everything is built to last – is at least true; last year, a bunch of audio journalists from the UK visited Burmester’s Berlin factory. There’s a room there with endless parts and almost no products, called the ‘repairs department’. We saw a few CD players there, mostly for updating. They looked new. They were all more than 20 years old. Burmester even fabricates parts that no-one else can get to service its long-legacy customers. So, the products are expensive, but you get what you pay for.