Given Dieter Burmester’s background as a musician, this system not surprisingly really digs rock ’n’ roll. On a 24/96 FLAC of “Whole Lotta Love” (Led Zeppelin II came loaded on the 161’s drive), Page’s Gibson Les Paul guitar shreds tore from the speakers, with muscle conveyed as capably as the more finely detailed tambourine and cymbal taps and strikes during John Bonham’s breakdown.
The fun continued with a listen to the Mobile Fidelity reissue of Doolittle from the Pixies on CD. Transparency stood out here. On “Monkey Gone to Heaven” the cello accents that often get lost in the mix on lesser systems shined through with pleasingly natural tone and texture. The realistic impact of the opening kickdrum beats before the start of “Mr. Grieves” made me sit up and take notice.
All told, my critical listening to hi-res tracks through the Phase 3 system ranks favorably among the best digital I’ve listened to in my room. The sense of harmonics, body, and life impressed this analog-über-alles reviewer. You get room-filling sound full of inviting and often realistic detail that serves the music—plus a generous side of slam when called for.
Form and Functionality
For its most basic functions—such as playback of CDs and files stored on the server and via USB—the Phase 3 couldn’t be more plug-and-play. Just use the front panel buttons or remote control (or the iPad app once it’s on the 161’s server network). A pair of antennae needed for WiFi connectivity is included. (These screw onto the back.) But the more advanced home network and other functions require the iPad Mini app (or a hard-wire laptop connection to the 161) and some remote control usage (detailed in the user manual). (Operation is also possible via laptop web browsers but I was unable to get this to work with my MacBook Pro; it seems my WiFi did not like the IP addresses. The iPad app is really the way.) The sophisticated app for iPad, which came already downloaded on the iPad Mini that Burmester supplied, connected to my local WiFi network easily enough but presented some configuration issues that unfortunately impeded the 161’s functions requiring WiFi connectivity, such as streaming and Internet radio. A support call with a leader from Burmester R&D Digital confirmed that I was following the correct set-up steps but couldn’t determine why the 161 didn’t “accept” my local WiFi to complete and exit the app’s configuration mode. Fortunately, entering a few codes on the remote allowed me to bypass the home WiFi and run the iPad app and network player in “source” mode. Soon after, however, Burmester provided a more recent firmware update that resolved the local connectivity issue and allowed me to stream via my Tidal account. The app has a wonderfully user-friendly interface with intuitive navigation. You can build and edit playlists by tapping on selected albums and tracks, and sort and search easily. You can adjust phase and gain levels for different outputs. You can import files from an external USB drive and rip CDs. Essentially you can do it all within the app. Although the robust iPad Mini app presented some challenges as noted, these should be fixable. The app really provides all you could ask for and, once all is connected, is blissfully easy to use.
All told, if you lack the desire, patience, or space for assembling separate components, and have a taste for the exotic—plus the financial wherewithal—this unique system really does make a bold statement, sonically and aesthetically. Indeed for certain customers, it strikes all the right chords: It’s reportedly been a big seller!
Specs & Pricing
System type: All-in-one; including a pair of Burmester B15 speakers and 161 Musiccenter (plus speaker cables, power cord, WiFi antennae, and remote control).
System price: $40,000
Type: Single-chassis network player/DAC/server/disc player/streamer with internal power amplifier
Integrated amp output: 170Wpc into 4 ohms
SNR: >92dB; >98dB (DAC)
Analog inputs: 1 x XLR
Digital inputs: 1 x RCA; 1 TosLink
Analog outputs: 1 x XLR
Digital outputs: 1 x RCA, TosLink
Headphone output: ¼"
Ethernet: 1 x RJ-45
USB 2.0: 4 x Type A; 1 x Type A (front panel)
WiFi antennae: 2x Coaxial
Formats: FLAC, wav, mp3, AIFF, OGG, AAC, ALAC(m4A), DSD; up to 24-bit/192kHz
Weight: 66.2 lbs. (Retro Style); 86 lbs. (Loft Style)
Dimensions: 24.9" x 25" x 17.7" (Retro); 22.6" x 24.8" x 16.6" (Loft)
Type: Two-way, bass-reflex
Drivers: AMT tweeter, 6.7" (170mm) fiberglass paper cone mid/bass
Impedance: 4 ohms
Frequency response: 46Hz–45kHz
Weight: 44.8 lbs. (Retro); 49.6 lbs. (Loft)
Dimensions: 12.3" x 28.7" x 16.7" (Retro Style); 9.9" x 28.8" x 16.7" (Loft Style)
BURMESTER AUDIOSYSTEME GMBH
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