In the title track for Mary-Chapin Carpenter’s Come On, Come On [Columbia], note the way in which the AB-160 opens up the apparent size of the soundstage but letting you hear previously obscured low-level ambient and reverberant cues. This is the sort of track that sounds nominally good through most equipment, but that it capable of a much higher level (better than merely “good”) of sound quality—a level the AB-160 helps to unleash. But, where the AB-160 gives you more of the good stuff in fine recordings, it can also make occasional problems and glitches more apparent. With the AB-160 in play, for instance, there are moments where it sounds as if Ms. Carpenter’s voice has been “rinsed” through a studio dynamics processor whose effects, as it turns out, are not always beneficial (the AB-160 helps to reveal moments where vocal swells sound just slightly “over the top”).
Listen to the classic jazz piece “Take Five” from The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Time Out [Columbia SACD] and note the inner details of Paul Desmond’s lovely sax solo. Very subtle mouthpiece and reed noises, which many amplifiers either suppress or only partially reproduce, remain subdued and yet become crystal clear and explicit with the AB-160 in the signal chain, so that overall realism takes a significant jump upward. But even greater sonic benefits accrue as you listen to Joe Morello’s brilliant drum solo in 5/4 time. When the AB-160 is brought into play literally everything about the sound of Morello’s drum kit gets better. The attack, sustain, shimmer, and decay of the cymbals, for example, sounds markedly more complete and authentic—not compressed or truncated as with some amplifiers. Similar, snare drum shots and kick drum accents have real transient speed and energy (much like the real thing) once the audio buffer is used, whereas they sound like rather pale imitations of themselves if the buffer is removed. This tracks shows how the AB-160 helps to reveal the true shape of the dynamic envelopes of each note, so that you can fully appreciate it when artists like Morello demonstrate their masterful control of dynamics.
Finally, check out the Michael Tilson Thomas/Paul Jacobs/San Francisco Symphony performance of the first (Prelude Andante) movement of Aaron Copland’s Organ Symphony [SFS Media, SACD]. In particular, pay very close attention to the voice of the pipe organ, itself. With the AB-160 installed, bass pitch definition improves, so that you can fully appreciate the subtle voicing differences between the various registers of the organ and can, on very low notes, hear how the organ activates the entire hall with waves of bass energy. With the audio buffer in play, the organ continues to sound powerful (as it almost always does), while taking on a heightened measure of subtlety and delicacy that greatly enriches the listening experience.
Consider this audio buffer if: you would enjoy a product that, in simple terms, makes good components sound even better. While the magnitude of the improvements wrought by the audio buffer may be relatively small, the collective impact of the sonic changes is not—especially for those who are chasing that elusive top five percent of improvement.
Look further if: you feel you might be ahead of the game to step up to higher level core components rather than investing in a “helper component” such as the AB-160. But weigh costs and benefits carefully; you may find the AB-160 gives precisely the kinds of improvements that matter most to audiophiles, and for a reasonable price.
The Burson Audio AB-160 is a well conceived and well made add-on product that, exactly as advertised, unlocks higher levels of inner detail, transient clarity, and dynamic expression. For those who care about the fine points of sound reproduction, the AB-160 will be a worthwhile investment.
Burson Audio AB-160 audio buffer.
Inputs: two stereo analog (single-ended, via RCA jacks)
Outputs: one stereo analog (single-ended, via RCA jack)
Frequency Response: 0 - 220kHz (-3dB)
Gain: 3 – 6 dB (selectable)
Signal/Noise: -120 dB
Output Noise Level: 0.015 mV
Dimensions (H x W x D): 3.15” x 7.09” x 9.84”
Weight: 12.125 lbs.
Price: $549 (RCA version), $599 (XLR version)