There comes a point where every headphone enthusiast will inevitably ask themselves, “Am I getting the most out of my cans?...Does my amp have enough juice to do them justice?”. If this sounds a bit like you, well, fret no more - Australia’s own Burson Audio has well and truly put this quandary to bed with the release of their new flagship $3399 Burson Audio Soloist 3X Grand Tourer headphone amplifier. With an astonishing 10 Watts of Class-A power pumping through its fully-balanced dual-mono architecture fed by no fewer than five sets of Burson’s proprietary Max Current Power Supplies, the Soloist 3X GT has been even had to be fitted with an active cooling fan to help manage the heat generated by this amount of potent headphone-driving power.
A “Grand Tourer”, indeed
“GT”: these two letters carry a certain sense of cachet and immediately evoke an emotional response due to the fact that they’re usually reserved for the most luxurious and powerful members of the performance car world. According to Wikipedia, a “Grand Tourer” is “...a type of sports car that is designed for high speed and long-distance driving, due to a combination of performance and luxury attributes”. You can spot a Grand Tourer a mile away on the highway thanks to their long bonnets, subtle aerodynamic flair, and the sense of potency that they give off - you can just tell that they’re ready to lazily eat up miles of highway without so much as breaking a sweat, all the while hurtling you along in decadent luxury.
It only takes one glance at the new Soloist 3X Grand Tourer from Burson Audio to get the same kind of sports-car-like vibes: there’s the sleek aluminium finned case; the subtle cutouts exposing a “radiator”-like fan underneath; and of course, there are the “Grand Tourer” model designation decals on the roof of this race-ready headphone amplifier that lets you know that there’s something different lurking underneath the hood that sets this model apart from the “regular” Burson Soloist Burson Audio Soloist 3X Performance Headphone Amplifier.
The “Performance” model of the Soloist 3X was already no slouch when it came to powering headphones with a maximum output of 8 Watts a channel, but Burson must have felt the urge to release an even hotter version and so set about designing what is now their flagship all-analogue headphone amplifier (and preamplifier). If you’ve been wondering whether you should start tinkering with a soldering iron to strap your insensitive planar magnetic headphone to the back of a speaker amplifier, then you’d better take note of what’s going on in the new Soloist 3X Grand Tourer, because it’s one seriously powerful, seriously good-sounding beast that’s ready to roll with just about any headphone you can conceivably throw at it.
Soloist 3X Grant Tourer key features at a glance:
Dual mono Class-A headphone amplifier
Headphone output power (balanced/single-ended):
10 / 5W
8 / 4W
3.8 / 1.9W
1.3W / 650mW
640 / 320mW
- 3 x levels of gain control
- Noctua active cooling fan
- 3 x Burson Vivid V6 opamps per channel (user swappable)
- 2 x XLR & 2 x RCA inputs
- 1 x XLR + 1 x RCA preamplifier output
- 1 x subwoofer output
- Selectable “headphone + subwoofer mode”
- 3 x levels of crossfeed
- Mic input bypass
- Balance control
- Machined aluminium remote
Soloist 3X Grand Tourer design and form-factor
The new design language that Burson Audio unveiled with the launch of their Conductor 3 back in 2019 has very much carried over to the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer, which rocks the same all-aluminium enclosure featuring Burson’s “Cool Case” finned chassis. This design allows the entire body of the device to act as a heatsink to dissipate the additional energy wasted in Class-A/Class-A/B designs which is converted into sound. The Soloist 3X Grand Tourer shares the exact same footprint and chassis as Burson’s other full-size amplification devices, including their Timekeeper 3i (take a peek at our Burson Audio Timekeeper 3i Headphone & Speaker Amplifier review if you’re curious), so it’ll stack nicely with other Burson gear if you want to keep a nice same-same aesthetic going on in your setup. As well as being a terrific headphone amplifier the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer also happens to be a top-notch line preamplifier, and Burson recommends it as the perfectly-matched upstream pairing with (a pair of) their new Burson Audio Timekeeper 3X Grand Tourer Mono-Block Power Amplifiers. Like all of Burson’s recent products, the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer is certainly one handsome beast - its sleek yet understated design looks aptly premium as hifi equipment goes, and its all-metal chassis feels solid and made to last.
Weighing in at 5kg and displacing 255mm x 270mm x 70mm of desktop space, the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer is very much a full-sized piece of head-fi gear - it’s firmly intended for serious, stationary headphone listening, with suitably-serious full-sized headphones. While it does displace a reasonable amount of real estate when laying “flat”, with the addition of one of Burson’s optional “Cool Stands” you’ll be able to vertically mount the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer upright to save even more space on your desktop, which is a pretty nifty feature - this also further helps to keep the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer even cooler by helping dissipate even more heat away from the chassis.
Speaking of heat, the five sets of Burson’s proprietary “Max Current Power Supplies” generate so much power (it apparently consumes 90 Watts of power when idle) that Burson had no choice but to install an active cooling system in the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer. The PC-builders among you might be familiar with the name “Noctua” - Burson opted to use a fan from this Austrian-based manufacturer due to its performance and inherent quietness. Burson claims that the fan they’ve selected is the quietest that money can be, producing only 25dB of wind noise - probably far less than the ambient noise level in the room you’re sitting in right now.
The “lid” of the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer can be removed by the owner (using the supplied hex key) to take a peek under the hood and tinker with the amplifier’s sound by swapping out its op-amps to suit your liking. Burson’s own op-amps are well-renowned among the audiophile community, and the V6 Vivid op-amps which are installed by default are well-renowned for their terrific sound.
The Soloist 3X Grand Tourer features two headphone outputs on the front panel - a four-pin balanced XLR connection and a 6.3mm single-ended one. Next to these is a 3.5mm microphone bypass input - a somewhat novel feature that Burson has chosen to implement across their headphone amplifier range. If you have a separate microphone or headset input that needs to be connected to your PC for gaming or productivity, simply plug it into the front panel and then route another 3.5mm cable from the rear of the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer to your PC to help keep your cables neat and tidy.
A multifunction display screen on the face of the amp keeps you informed of volume, input, output and gain levels while you’re listening, and also offers access to the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer’s settings which can be navigated by twisting and “clicking” the large machined aluminium volume knob. Burson explain that they went to great lengths to ensure their volume control circuits avoided any unwanted channel interference and so chose to use one MUSES72320 op-amp as well as one of their own V6 Vivid op-amps as a discrete buffer in each channel to ensure precise control with no volume imbalance at any level.
Flipping the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer around to back shows that it’s one properly-serious analogue device, featuring two balanced XLR and two single-ended RCA inputs for connecting up to four selectable source devices at once. These input options are generous not only for a headphone amplifier, but it also makes the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer an extremely viable preamplifier choice if you were to connect it to either a power amplifier (or two!) or powered speakers - a set of 12V trigger input/output 3.5mm mono jacks further adds to its preamplifier credentials and overall convenience when used in this guise.
The final output option on the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer - an RCA subwoofer output - is pretty standard fare for a preamplifier, but far less common for a headphone amp. Burson has chosen to equip the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer with a pretty unique feature: “Head+Sub” mode, which basically means that you can enjoy listening to your favourite headphone with a subwoofer active at the same time for even more decadent and visceral bass enjoyment. I know this does sound a little nuts at first, but it’s something that I discovered a few years ago by accident when I realised that the headphone output on one of my old amplifiers didn’t mute when using it as a preamplifier. At first, I was starting to wonder why my HD600s suddenly sounded so damn awesome until I was interrupted by banging at my door asking me to turn down the walloping bass coming out of my office. This is obviously something that’s better experienced with open-back headphones, and it can help provide a full-range visceral bass experience that’s far more “speaker-like”, with the added benefit of avoiding all the acoustic pitfalls and gremlins of the room that you’re sitting in.
Soloist 3X Grand Tourer user experience
The Soloist 3X Grand Tourer is a relatively straightforward and intuitive device to live with as a daily-driver headphone amplifier and preamplifier - after all, it is mainly an “analogue-first” device, but it does have a few interface tricks (and quirks) up its sleeves that give you some added convenience and control over your listening experience.
There are four buttons under the front “window” display that provides access to the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer’s main settings:
- Input selection - with options for RCA 1, RCA 2, XLR 1, XLR 2
- Output selection - with options for headphone amplifier mode, pre-amplifier mode, and “Head+Sub” mode
- Settings - provides access to 3 x levels of gain control (low, medium, high), Left/Right balance control, screen brightness settings, crossfeed settings (off, low, medium, high), remote on/off, factory reset, and auto-shutoff mode (which turns the device off after sitting idle for about twenty minutes)
- Screen orientation - changes the orientation of the screen 90-degrees clockwise should you wish to orient the device “upwards”
Toggling through the settings is managed via a combination of twisting and clicking the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer’s volume wheel, which can be a bit of a fiddly experience at times. The free-spinning knob has a very light throw, and it can take quite a few attempts to find the right input or gain setting before you land on the right one and manage to “click” it in place without landing it on the wrong one at the last second. I would have liked to see the gain setting accessible via a physical button on the front of the unit (probably at the expense of the screen-orientation button), but it’s by no means a deal-breaker.
If you have the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer slightly out of arm’s reach or if you’re using it mainly as a preamplifier in a hifi rack, then you’ll appreciate the addition of a simple yet nicely-made remote which is included with the device. The remote is the same basic four-button unit that’s included with many of Burson’s current line-up of products and allows you to control input selection, muting, and volume up/down.
One thing that did throw me initially when setting up the device was the fact that the left and right XLR and RCA inputs are split on either side of the rear of the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer - presumably something to do with the dual-mono architecture of the PCBs sitting underneath the chassis. After wondering why I was only getting sound out of one channel, I realised my mistake after a closer look at the markings on the back panel and ran an XLR connection into the corresponding “R1” and “L1” inputs instead - if you have a pair of XLR or RCA cables that are joined together, just note that you may need to split them or find a set of individual cables that you can use in parallel.
After switching the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer with a click of its front-mounted power button, you are greeted with the subtle, yet audible noise made by the active cooling fan - the fan operates 100% of the time that the amplifier is switched on, it’s not activated by a thermostat. If you’re in a quiet room and you don’t have music playing, you’ll definitely hear it. It’s not obnoxious or overpowering by any means, but if there’s a lull in your music you will be reminded that the super-powered headphone amplifier you have sitting there is very much switched on and ready to spit out 10 Watts of power when called upon. Using closed-back headphones the sound of the fan is basically zero, but when doing a spot of gaming with open back headphones I did find the sound of the fan a little intrusive when trying to listen out for nearby enemies - it’s about as loud as your average air conditioning unit, but pretty much inaudible the moment music starts playing.
The Soloist 3X Grand Tourer does get a little warm to the touch (the heat is slightly more pronounced when laying flat), but the fan does a good job of keeping those 10 Watts of Class-A power from overheating the chassis - I’ve had some far less powerful Class-A headphone amps in the past that I would actually use to keep my cup of tea warm.
One thing I will note when using the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer as a preamplifier is that it makes a pretty audible DC offset “pop” through your speakers when powering it on and off if your power amplifier is switched on. It might take you by surprise by first, but I got myself into the habit of switching off my power amplifier before the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer to avoid this.
Listening to the Burson Audio Soloist 3X Grand Tourer
The idea of putting a maximum of 10 Watts of power into a pair of cans did seem a little daunting at first, and so I did start my listening tests with a little trepidation. I also (somewhat unfairly) expected that a headphone amplifier that sets itself apart courtesy of its sheer power credentials might be all brawn and little finesse, but I’ve definitely learned over the years that perceptions can be proven very wrong.
The first thing I need to get out of the way is that the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer is very powerful (no surprises there). Using the Bryston BDA-3 Digital Analogue Converter as a digital source hooked up to the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer’s XLR inputs, I plugged in my balanced Grado GH1 into the XLR headphone output and set the output gain to “low”. After pressing play on a 24-bit/192kHz Qobuz stream of Alice In Chain’s Facelift album, I turned the volume from “00” to “01” and it was LOUD - as in, way too loud for my own comfortable listening levels. I switched the GH1s over to the single-ended input, and while it was a fair degree quieter, I would have liked to turn the volume down further (if I could have). There was some audible hum present with the 32-ohm Grados in the single-ended output, which was also present when unplugged all source equipment, so I found myself going back to the balanced XLR output and dropping the source headroom by -10dB in Roon just to give myself some usable volume range.
Having found a work-around for the overly-spicy volume levels with sensitive headphones, I was rewarded with perhaps the most energetic and convincing performance I’ve heard yet from my trusty GH1 - the bass line in It Ain’t Like That simply pummelled like no other solid-state amp I can remember listening to. The overwhelming sense I was getting about the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer’s temperament is one of gusto. It just presents conveys so much energy and macrodynamic slam, and this is with the volume set to practically zero in low gain! Tonality-wise I don’t get a sense of any colouration from the GT, per se, but it does have a real sense of engagement and entertainment - every time I started listening to it I got the feeling that it’s full and rich-sounding, thanks to its dense, layered sound and the oomph that it seems to impart on every note.
Continuing with the same album for a while to get a better sense of how the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer performed with some familiar headphones, I reached for a higher-impedance pair in the form of the 300-ohm Sennheiser HD600 Open Back Headphones. “01” in medium gain was slightly too loud for my liking so I stepped it back down to low gain, where I found myself settling between “10” and “15” according to the LED display on the front of the amp. The Soloist 3X Grand Tourer sounded wholly authoritative with the HD600, delivering potent, punchy slaps of the bass guitar in Sea of Sorrow, and presenting a rich and resonant mid-range complete with spicy guitars and organic, urgent vocals. The HD600 is a more intimate-sounding headphone, and yet the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer presented a vivid sense of layering which was particularly present during the breakdown in the track at 2:10 - the fading backup vocals and distant cymbals had a real sense of height as well as width.
For a completely different sort of test, I decided to pair the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer with the very unusual LB-Acoustics MYSPHERE 3.2 Open Headphones. With their off-ear, open design the MYSPHERE 3.2 is far more like listening to speakers in a well-treated room than listening to a pair of headphones when paired with appropriate-quality source gear. At 96dB efficiency and 110-ohms impedance, they don’t need a lot of theoretical power but in my experience, they absolutely require buckets of headroom and ample power to sound anywhere near their best. Finally, I was able to let the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer off its leash and set it into high gain with the MYSPHERE 3.2 for a stupidly enjoyable listen through Swedish progressive metal band Soen’s debut album Cognitive. With the volume pot set to “10”, it was time for the GT to prove that it can handle just as well as it can hoon down the quarter-mile. Never, ever, have I heard transient-handling capabilities as sublimely impressive as the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer and MYSPHERE 3.2 pairing. The leading edges of notes felt absolutely laser-etched, and the MYSPHERE’s ability to deftly resolve and sort through rapid changes in tempo and abrupt notes was nothing short of stunning.
I spent some time briefly trying out the different levels of crossfeed settings with the MYSPHERE - I generally tend to avoid crossfeed as I feel it condenses the feeling of space and stage that I enjoy with headphones, but I can report that it works effectively and you may enjoy it if you prefer a more focused, "speaker-like" presentation or if you often listen to some hard-panned old stereo mixes.
I was starting to think that the MYSPHERE would actually be an awesome candidate for testing out the “Head+Sub” mode being a) so open sounding, and b) on the leaner side of the ledger when it comes to bass quantity, but alas, I don’t have a sub on hand at the time of writing. However, any thought of wanting to dial up the bass was more than overcompensated for by the sheer levels of vocal clarity on display here. The harmonised vocal parts at the four-minute mark in track #2, Fraccions, genuinely feel like they’re coming from a marble-encrusted cathedral rather than emanating from two strange-looking tiny speakers strapped to either side of your head. Truly stunning stuff.
Medium gain proved to be too much for me to handle with the new Audeze LCD-5 Reference Planar Magnetic Open Back Headphones (even at “01”), so low gain was the appropriate setting for the Audeze planar flagship for a two-hour and two-minute listening session with Smashing Pumpkin’s Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness. One thing that struck me about the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer was the fact that you don’t need to crank it especially loud to reveal a properly finessed and yet still dynamic performance (“15” was plenty) from the LCD-5, even in some of the quieter tracks like Galapogos where I was treated to a nice, visceral feeling of real percussion from Jimmy Chamberlin’s kick-drums counterbalanced with lovely airy strings and (not so lovely, but certainly “distinctive”) textured vocals from Billy Corgan.
The Soloist 3X Grand Tourer holds back nothing by way of detail from the ultra-revealing LCD-5, offering a completely front-row seat into the front row of the audience while still making you feel like you’re part of the music, rather than simply listening to a recording. Sure, it has more power than you’ll ever need to use with the LCD-5, but the GT sounds so damn fine with them that you’ll be able to kick back and simply enjoy them knowing that you have headroom aplenty up your sleeves.
Ok, I know what you’re probably asking by now: “yeah, but how does it go with the HIFIMAN Susvara?”. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. The 83dB HIFIMAN Susvara planar magnetic headphones are rightly the test when it comes to assessing amplifier performance - not only being they’re notoriously insensitive but because they also can sound a little underwhelming when not fed with appropriately-powered and appropriate-quality source gear. I won’t stand on ceremony here - the Susvara absolutely slaps with the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer, and also happens to sound utterly refined while doing so. I don’t know how down you are with your South Algerian music, but you need to give the track Ehad Wa Dahg by Imarhan a go - it’s a dead-set banger. “10” in high gain is all it takes to eke out a speaker-like presentation from the Susvara which shows off its brilliant staging, a near faultless frequency response, oodles of detail, plus an absolutely rollicking and impossibly-tight low-end performance. The power and refinement of the Susvara when fed with the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer is genuinely intoxicating, and it’s tempting to want to keep on creeping up the volume dial…but I want to keep enjoying music for many decades to come, and I was happy to kick-back and enjoy a full dynamic performance between 75dB and 80dB in volume.
So, who would I recommend the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer for? Given its supreme power output and exceptional performance with insensitive headphones, owners of more difficult-to-drive planar magnetics cans really ought to take note. It is a little “overkill” with more easily-powered dynamic driver headphones, but with careful source paring and signal management, you will be rewarded with an exceptionally dynamic performance.
I’ve mainly spoken about the GT’s headphone performance, but I shouldn’t under-emphasise that it’s also an exceptional balanced analogue preamplifier as well - if you’re looking for a device to perform double-duties in both roles then it should be high on your shortlist.While we’ve well and truly established that the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer has truly “end-game” levels of power underneath its shiny hood, this also creates one important side-effect: comfort. Like a 12-cylinder Grand Tourer sports car, it’s a decadent way to go from A to B as your daily driver, but it’s great to know that whatever you throw at it down the track, it’ll have the guts, finesse and liveability to remain parked on your desktop long into the future.