Review by Alan Sircom
Unlike the other integrated designs in the range, the 101 is smaller, slimmer, lighter, and more conventional looking than its stable-mates. In truth, the conventional looks belie the fact that the 101 is perhaps the most radical design in Burmester’s long amplifier history. The 101 amplifier is a 120W design, and uses Class D power sections, in place of the predominantly Class A topology of other amps in the Burmester range. Class D operation polarises audio enthusiasts, but the 101 takes the Class D concept and runs with it. Instead of using off-the-shelf modules and the standard-issue switch-mode power supply, the 101 features custom-designed filters, and a high-grade linear supply. Both the preamplifier and the high-grade headphone amplifier are DC coupled, thereby limiting the number of capacitors in the signal path. Also outside the signal path is a protection circuit, designed for overload, overheat, and DC offset protection.
...... Like a lot of Burmester equipment, it’s designed as a balanced audio circuit that can do single-ended, and not the other way round. It has only two single ended inputs, alongside the three combination XLR/jack sockets rarely seen this side of a pro rig. This is best used with balanced sources ...... and the sound was more integrated and had more ‘zest’ when used in fully balanced mode from DAC to speaker terminals. Naturally, it also worked well with Burmester’s own (we used the 113 DAC, and this proved an excellent side-kick for the 101).
As suggested, the 101’s basic sound is very Burmester, combining an almost valve-like roundness and effortless dynamics, with a lot of detail. And, as described above, engaging the ‘smooth’ switch just increases the rounded off sound somewhat, and will tame some of the more excessively ‘hot’ mixes out there (it can tame some slightly ‘spitchy’ tweeters, too). It also seems to act as an ‘unloudness’ filter, making it great for some late-night, low-volume listening.
The ace up the 101’s sleeve is its sense of grip over the loudspeakers. I played perhaps the least audiophile, well-recorded tracks I own; ‘Still D.R.E.’ from 2001 by Dr Dre [Interscope]. There’s a tendency for less grippy amplifiers to drown in the drone, and lose some snap to the percussion loops. Here, it sounds as fresh and gangsta. Word! In a perhaps more appropriate idiom, the sense of grip means instruments like timpani and double bass never get out of hand, even when the music rises to crescendo, as in the last movement of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony (Solti and Chicago SO, Decca).
...... In the manner of classic Apple launches, there’s just one more thing; the built-in headphone amplifier. This is something of a star, because it’s capable of driving very difficult headphone loads without blinking, and does so with the same rich, warm, effortlessly powerful, and detailed presentation for which the 101 (and, by extension, Burmester) is prized.