My Video Review:
Oh my, how time flies. I remember as it was yesterday when Burson Audio released their first power amplifier somewhere at the end of 2013 calling it the Timekeeper (such a fitting name), that we got to review on our sister website a decade ago. My daily driver at that time was a first generation Burson Conductor that was singing tunes in a headphone and stereo setup. The Timekeeper intrigued me so much that we’ve tested not one, but two units in bridged mode that could provide some serious 240 Watts per channel in 8 Ohms. That combo drove two pairs of bookshelves and another two pairs of standfloor speakers like it was a walk in the park, we couldn’t choke it even with -13 dB recordings, it was still running cool and it had enough headroom even with the most demanding tracks. A few years later, Burson released their statement power amp called the Timekeeper Virtuoso, that could pump some 300 fricking Watts into 4 Ohms, if two units were being bridged together. Sadly, I never got to try those, but as you all know…fortune favors the bold and finally Timekeeper the third paid me a visit.
You could blame millennials, wife acceptance factor, the newest power regulations or just convenience, but audiophiles started appreciating simplicity, embracing minimalism in their homes and that is exactly what Burson did with their latest and the greatest. Instead of crafting a brand-new power amplifier dressed up in their heat efficient Cool Case, Burson decided to add an advanced D/A converter on top, a preamplifier stage, a headphone amplifier and of course update their renown power amplifier circuitry, pumping some 100 Watts in 8 Ohms, wrapping all that wizardry in a small and lightweight enclosure that wouldn’t rob too much space in your living room. I’m about a 4-in-1 single box solution that could power pretty much everything, from hungry planar-magnetic headphones, to big standfloor loudspeakers, carrying all the latest tech that Burson are notorious for.
Burson weren’t cutting corners with their do-it-all wonder box, so prepare to pay a premium with the Timekeeper 3i, more exactly $2499 (including shipping). As usual, I’ll be conducting an in-depth review, trying a bunch of headphones and loudspeakers, commenting on everything I find useful to share with you.
As usual, everything came double boxed as all high-performance units are coming nowadays. There is a lot of white foam that’s protecting the precious cargo during shipping. Besides the unit itself that sits in a throne of foam, there is an accessory box nearby that houses: a high-quality aluminum remote, several torx screwdrivers to open its case, an extra fuse, a USB Type-C cable, an external power brick, a power cable that attaches to it and four JRC 5532D op-amps from New Radio Japan. Burson doesn’t recommend using those as they aren’t sounding that great compared to their beefed-up V6 discrete offerings. However, you will need them in case a V6 op-amp is showing signs of age. With the included USB-C cable found in the package, you can connect it to your PC, MAC or even to your smartphone or tablet, pretty cool right?
Oh my, that’s a lot of accessories if you ask me! It is more than enough. I’m pleased the most about the metal remote which can be used in a speaker setup.
Design & Build Quality
This is their third generation Timekeeper, but it is the first one that doesn’t follow the same design language of its founding fathers. Burson dressed this one up with a much nicer Cool Case that tripled its surface area, seriously improving its heat dissipation. On the outside it looks pretty much the same with another all-in-one sibling that we reviewed a year ago: the Conductor 3 Reference that was mainly designed for headphone enthusiasts. Burson redesigned its case from the ground up and used every internal square inch at maximum potential. It’s fully stocked with some of the best components in a shiny aluminum case.
The fins that are wrapping it entirely are working as a huge heat sink for its output transistors. The threaded volume wheel has a nice grip to it and it reminds me a lot about my tactical flashlights – another hobby of mine. Burson hid all the screws on its back panel, for a much cooler look. Naturally, the case was milled on a CNC machine, exposing its raw aluminum look, that fits it like a glove. It has some decent sized rubber feet underneath it, but since it always works in Class-A, dissipating a lot more heat to traditional amplifiers, I recommend elevating it further for a better ventilation. IsoAcoustics Puck Mini could do a decent job at keeping it cooler and as an added bonus will absorb micro-vibrations too. However, if you want the absolute best solution at keeping it cool, nothing beats the Burson Cool Stand that you can buy separately for $125, check it out here. I’ve used it and it’s literally and figuratively very Cool. With it, Timekeeper 3i will be standing up, using considerably less desktop space and you shouldn’t worry about scratches as it uses a thick layer of anti-slip scratch-resistant silicone lining.
Having a medium sized case (255 x 270 x 70 mm) and weighting only 5 Kg (11 lbs) it is quite small and lightweight and it can be easily arranged in smaller working spaces or in cramped stereo setups. Burson added an interesting “Tetris button” that is flipping the screen 90 degrees so you could use it vertically with the Cool Stand for a better air flow and for a smaller footprint.
Overall, I like its sleek and minimalist look, its case screams high quality engineering, everything feels tight and doesn’t wobble at all, the raw aluminum look is interesting to look at and I certainly like it better to their old anodized surface.
Controls & Connectivity
On its front plate you’ll find a regular 6.35 mm (1/4”) headphone jack, a 3.5 mm (1/8”) microphone input, gaming headsets with 4 pole jacks should work nicely with it. As for buttons, from left to right there is your On/Off button, input selector, output selector, settings and flip the screen button. The volume wheel works in digital domain and has 99 steps, so no more guessing how much power is there left on tap. You can spot a monochrome OLED screen that is located exactly in the middle, it’s fairly small, but thanks to a bigger font, everything’s visible even from afar. It will show all the important stuff as the volume position, the selected digital input, analog output and the sample rates.
On its back you can spot 3 digital inputs: USB Type-C, Optical, Coaxial, plus a Bluetooth antenna socket. Since it can work as a dedicated DAC, as a DAC + Preamp or as a Preamp only, you’ll find a pair of RCA inputs and another pair of RCA outputs – that can be volume controllable or fixed. To its right you’ll find a pair of high-quality speaker terminals that can use bare wire, spades or banana plugs.
As you can see, it can be used as a universal all-in-one unit, it can work as a stand-alone DAC, DAC + Preamp, DAC + Integrated amp, as a stand-alone headphone amp or as a DAC + headphone amp and it can even receive lossless music signals via Bluetooth 5.0 thanks to that rad LDAC codec.
With the included metallic remote you can change its volume level, mute or unmute it, change the selected input and rest of the settings are controlled by entering the user menu, where the following settings can be accessed:
- Input – USB, Toslink, Coaxial, Bluetooth and RCA – very straightforward
- Output – HP Out, Speaker Out, DAC Out and PRE Out – self explanatory
- Gain: High and Low – this setting impacts your headphone and speaker outputs
- FirFilter – you can select your desired digital filter that are built-in directly in the ESS Sabre DAC chip, there are 7 filters to play with, but the sound difference between them is slight at best.
- DPLL (DSD) – OFF, Low, Mid and High (default) – the higher this setting is the higher the jitter rejection will be for DSD files
- DPLL (PCM) – Off, Low, Mid or High (default) – the same but for PCM files
- Emphasis – Off (default), ON position rolls-off the treble by about 5dB at 10 kHz and by about 8 dB at 20 kHz. I recommend leaving it in OFF position.
- OLED LEVEL – Low, Mid or High – sets its brightness level
- Reset Set: Yes or No – resets to factory settings
Most of these settings are set and forget, but thumbs up for implementing such a nerdy user interface.
Under the hood of Timekeeper 3i
With the Burson Conductor 3 that we’ve tested some time ago, they’ve squeezed a dual-mono DAC in there, a fully discrete Preamp and an overkill Class-A headphone amplifier into an enclosure that looks great alongside a PC or MAC.
With the Timekeeper 3i though, Burson created an ultimate all-in-one by adding a 100 Watts per channel Class-AB integrated amplifier into a Conductor 3! No more cables everywhere, no more shelf full of equipment, as there’s just the T3i, your headphones or speakers and good times with your music.
Its digital section is based on two ESS 9038Q2M DAC chips, one is being used per channel, squeezing a higher dynamic range from this particular silicon. An XMOS receiver handles all its digital inputs and 5 low-noise crystal clocks plus an additional control chip are dealing with PLL shaping and clock management.
It uses plenty of oversized output transistors, I’ve counted four bigger ones and six smaller ones, all of them are bolted to the aluminum enclosure for a better heat dissipation. It outputs some very serious power, more exactly 100 Watts per channel into 4 or 8 Ohms via its speaker terminals and 2 Watts per channel on its regular headphone jack. Burson used four V6 Dual Vivid op-amps at the input and output stage.
Don’t get upset seeing that external switching mode power supply, because that is only a very small portion of its power supply design. Most of it stays inside the unit, Burson developed what they are calling Max Current Power Supplies (or MCPS for short) that were included for the first time in their Conductor 3 series. Those are raising the voltage frequency from 50 Hz to 170 kHz, pushing the noise floor far beyond human hearing and its low impedance ensures abundant and instant energy on the spot for its transistors.
If you love rolling op-amps you can do that too, it uses four V6 Vivid dual all-discrete op-amps, you can mix two V6 Vivid with two V6 Classic, or you can make it even smoother sounding by going all-in with four V6 Classic op-amps. Mix and match, play with different flavors, just remember to use only dual op-amps.
For a good Bluetooth codec support and for a stable connection, they went with the highest performance CSR8675 BT receiver from Qualcomm, that currently supports all the best codecs as AAC, SBC, AptX, AptX-LL, AptX-HD and LDAC. Bluetooth version 5.0 and that wireless booster (antenna) will make sure to play all your tunes even with two concrete walls between the source and the T3i.
Timekeeper 3i was used in two stereo setups and also in my office driving several high-end headphones. In the living room it was used as an all-in-one driving the KEF Reference 3 standfloor and the Natural Sound NS-17 bookshelf speakers. In my office it was connected to my PC, driving mostly planar-magnetic headphones as Audeze LCD-4, Kennerton Wodan, Erzetich Phobos 2021 Edition and the Hifiman HE1000SE.
Ok everyone, enough with the talk, it’s time to hit some eardrums!
I. Preliminary Sound Impressions
Before doing any music listening, a close friend volunteered to run it for at least 2 weeks and I want to thank him for that. It replaced a Naim Uniti Atom and 2 weeks later he confessed that his loudspeakers never sounded so lively and impactful.
I’ve arranged it beautifully in the living room, I’ve connected those big KEF Reference 3 standfloors, I’ve connected it to my TV via Optical (I know, not the best solution) and used the built-in Chromecast so I could control the Tidal app with my smartphone and I’ve started some long listening sessions.
Although I have my loudspeakers for a little more than 6 months, I’ve tried a bunch of integrated and power amplifiers, some of them worked in Class-D, some in Class-A and some in Class-AB, but in all honesty, Class-A and Class-AB amps worked the best with these loudspeakers. With a sensitivity of 87 dB, Reference 3 are considered as hard to drive and you’ll need a much nicer amplifier to awake and control those bass notes. They sounded shy out of several class-D amps, always portraying a limited depth and soundstage size in my room.
When I’ve connected the Timekeeper 3i, I didn’t know what to expect considering its smaller size and its single box do-it-all design, but when bass notes started firing from a machine gun, feeling a thunder like bass and a chest pounding impact, I’ve opened my eyes wider and I’ve put a few more songs in my playlist. While I really love the bass quality coming from my Benchmark AHB2 and Keces S300 power amplifiers, this Burson right here was even meaner, throwing harder punches exactly where they hurt the most. Timekeeper’s sheet bass slam and tight control over KEF’s aluminum drivers was nothing short of spectacular! Something that very few amplifiers did with flying colors at my listening battle station.
Its midrange…oh that meaty and dense sounding midrange, add a resolving and extended upper treble and I’m already thinking about the unmistakable Burson Audio sound signature. There aren’t that many manufacturers priding themselves with a house sound, but Burson always had one, wanting to impress with an easy-going presentation, with an over-the-top liquidity and naturalness, with zero listening fatigue, all while being mean and impactful when the music is asking for it.
After a few days of non-stop listening even my wife asked what happened in our living room as her soft-rock songs were being livelier and more engaging. I’ve shown the silver surfer that was replacing a heavy-duty 3-box solution and immediately she wanted to replace them all with this wonder box. I appreciate the way Burson Audio engineered it. I find its DAC section on par with some of the best D/S DACs I’ve heard at my place, it is easily on the same level with their Conductor 3X and the integrated amplifier section felt insanely good, considering it was driving six metallic drivers that need a lot of current for a perfect control and for an instantaneous start and stop of their drivers.
That diminutive treble glare that I’ve heard on Soloist 3X together with Conductor 3 in their first month is completely skipping the action on the Timekeeper 3. There is no glare at all! Picture a resolving and detailed top-end, without the nasty brightness and listening fatigue and you are getting the T3i’s treble performance. KEF’s Reference 3 are extremely resolving and detail-oriented loudspeakers and I love them for that. I never felt that Timekeeper was shelving some energy in the frequency response, there weren’t dips, nor roll-offs, it wasn’t removing inner-details and it never veiled its leading edges, it felt clean and transparent to its core, always trying to highlight the smallest nuances in my tracks.
II. Headphone Amplifier Performance
Burson planted inside a 2Watts per channel headphone amplifier biased into Class-A, bypassing any op-amps in the signal path. This is an all-discrete headphone and integrated amplifier, so I’m expecting a very similar performance.
A. Erzetich Audio Phobos 2021 Edition (€2000)
The newest Phobos is an outstanding update over its predecessor, it sounds a little more detailed, while being considerably more controlled in the bass and top octave. The best planar-magnetic headphone of Erzetich still uses massive drivers, some of the biggest there are and of course they need plenty of power to be moved and controlled. It was an outstanding idea capping the volume of the Timekeeper 3i at 99 steps, as this way you’ll always know how much power is there is left on tap. On 60 out of 100, the mighty Phobos were already way too loud, leaving a ton of headroom for higher quality recordings. The latest single by Soen called EMDR (Qobuz / Tidal) sounded meaty, dense and highly engaging. Timekeeper 3i drove them fully, dynamics were relentless, bass notes went in and out in a split second, trebles weren’t scratching my timpani, I just closed my eyes and enjoyed every second of this nicely executed prog track.
B. Kennerton Wodan (€2222)
Wodan has a big spot in my heart, they remind me a lot about the sound of Audeze LCD-4 at only half of their price. Wodan also carry huge planar-magnetic drivers and need a decent amount of power for the best results. Having a very similar sensitivity, I couldn’t go higher than 60 out of 99. They became highly engaging, blooming like a spring flower, sounding effortless and easy going all the time. Wodan’s organic tonality remained intact, as Burson’s unit made them cleaner and faster sounding. Apart from that, it is the same Wodan that I know, cherish and love. Timekeeper 3i fully drove them, never slowing them down and never limiting their dynamics. This was an amazing pairing as it reminded a lot about the sound of their high-end Soloist 3X headphone amplifier.
C. Hifiman HE1000SE ($3500)
Hifiman’s HE1000SE is one of the cleanest and resolving headphones I know, until we’re reaching true world-class performance. They need a little bit more power and at around ~72 to 74 they are becoming loud and pretty much in line with the previous headphones. Luckily, their treble peak in the 7 to 9 kHz area isn’t that bothersome, as Timekeeper made it clean and transparent, without adding more energy in there. There was plenty of headroom remaining on tap and I consider that it was able to fully drive them. Out of all types of headphone amplifiers, the ones that used discrete components worked the best with the HE1000SE, never hurting their resolving nature, but always adding just a bit more soul, midrange presence and control in the bass. Timekeeper 3i strictly followed that rule, driving them fully.
D. Audeze LCD-4 ($4000)
LCD-4 are one of the most difficult headphones and you certainly need a few Watts until their membranes start dancing around. Timekeeper worked good with them at around 85 out of 100, but it wasn’t as impactful and tight sounding as their Soloist 3X, that pulled the best out of the LCD-4. There was some headroom remaining on tap, but it didn’t pound as hard and dynamics weren’t going up and down so effortlessly. It was doing a good job with the LCD-4, but those will certainly scale higher with more power. In any case, Timekeeper didn’t run out of steam, it will still be portraying a big soundstage and an amazing depth, letting those drivers do their thing. Two watts of power is more than enough with most headphones, but not so much with the most demanding ones as LCD-4, Abyss AB-1266 and Hifiman Susvara.
III. Noise Floor
Before I’ll tell you about its noise floor in a stereo and desktop environment, you should know that somewhere in 2017 they had a breakthrough in power supply research, that led to the development of their proprietary Max Current Power Supplies (MCPS for short) that look superior to both transformer-based and conventional switching-mode power supplies. Since the main power has a 50 – 60 Hz working frequency and we can easily hear the noise happening in that range, Burson’s MCPS increased the working frequency to 170 kHz, so all the noise happening in there would sit way above the human hearing threshold of 20 kHz. A genial ideal that paid off, making their newest devices smaller and lighter weight, while lowering down the noise to sub-atomic levels.
A. Noise levels with headphones
Their Conductor 3X Performance and Soloist 3X units already proved themselves IEM friendly at low gain and the same story repeats itself with the Timekeeper 3i. On low gain, I couldn’t detect any kind of noise with the most sensitive IEMs I have at my disposal. FiiO FA9 were completely noiseless at the lowest and at highest volume level. Noise doesn’t increase with the volume level and no matter how hard I’ve tried, there was an absolute silence in my tracks, leading to a pitch-black background in dead-silent passages. This undetectable noise floor, increased the perception of detail and transparency, boosting the leading edges of every single musical note. Volume wise, I could go up to 40 out of 99, leaving plenty of play on that wheel. It doesn’t get way too loud and way too fast and even on high gain I had 30 volume levels to choose from. As you could imagine, its fun character and engaging nature moved over to sensitive loads, as even those tiny drivers started hitting harder, increasing their speed and ultimately improving their dynamics.
B. Noise levels with Loudspeakers
The Uni-Q driver array of the KEF Reference 3 is extremely sensitive to any kind of noise, especially the 1” vented aluminum dome tweeters can pick up residual noise and all the bad stuff happening in the downstream equipment. They picked up noise from multiple amplifiers by now and luckily, Timekeeper 3i is not one of them. Going all the way up to the maximum volume, with the music on pause, I almost touched those tweeters with my ears and still I couldn’t detect low-intensity hums, there weren’t pops, crackles or nasty gremlins playing in the background. It seems that Burson’s Max Current Power Supply is indeed working as intended and this is really one of the cleanest integrated amplifiers I’ve tested at my place. A passive power conditioner wasn’t necessary, as it already performed like it was switched off completely.
A few days later I went higher on its volume and unsurprisingly at 80 out of 99, my loudspeakers were sounding clean, without showing traces of distortion. In the past I’ve experienced multiple integrated amplifiers that were raising distortion at much higher volumes, but with an ingenious power supply design, it was noiseless at any volume position and it cannot get any better than this.
KEF’s Reference 3 are good for low-level listening and demanding if you are rising that volume up. Luckily, Timekeeper 3i was both a gentleman and a hard rocker, depending on the volume and on the music that was playing.
IV. Resolution & Transparency
Only thinking that there are two ES9038 DAC chips inside, a fully discrete Class-A output stage, an over-engineered power supply, without a single traditional op-amp in the signal path…already tells a story on how it should sound. The only thing to say about its digital to analog converter stage is that it is as resolving and as transparent as some of the best D/S DACs I’ve tried at my place. It put all the spotlights on the tiniest details, on the smallest nuances and I never felt that something was gravely missing or buried deep in those recordings. Their Conductor 3 Performance behaved very similarly, always showing the last bits of information in a very easy and natural way. For me, Timekeeper 3i is both a natural performer, but also a revealing source down to the smallest details. When it replaced the Gold Note DS-10 Plus as my digital front end, I’ve felt that it added an additional layer of information on top and nothing stood in the way of the musical signal, as everything came towards me in its purest form possible. At this point, I’m not really sure if the double ESS Sabre configuration or that noiseless power supply was the main benefactor in here, but I’m sure for one thing that Timekeeper 3i will highlight the leading edges, their contours and all the inner-details, so you wouldn’t come across an empty musical shell, but have the whole experience for your mind and ears.
What’s more interesting is that those micro-details aren’t adding listening fatigue in the long run. It was smoothing out the rough edges and having so much texture and meat to the bone, transformed it into an effortless, full-bodied and engaging sounding creature. I’ve briefly compared it to a Naim Uniti Atom ($3300) which is quite possibly the most handsome all-in-one unit I’ve gazed upon, that adds on top a very convenient wireless streamer and a colorful LCD screen. Ten minutes didn’t pass, as Timekeeper 3i came up clearer, more detail-oriented, faster and punchier sounding at all times. Nothing wrong with the Uniti Atom – it’s still an outstanding all in one device, but Timekeeper 3i was a substantial upgrade on every single front, except for looks. If only Burson guys would consider adding a wireless streamer to its successor, that would be beyond awesome! Just imagine a single all-in-one unit from Burson, controlled wirelessly with a smart device… that’s all I’m dreaming about.
Since there is a weight and density to its sound, all those contours were never forced nor extremely sharp to a point of being fake and unnatural. It always presented treble energy in a natural and intricate way, without going overboard, without increasing the tension in that region. Overall, it opened its windows towards my music, it completely removed the veil, gifting the listener with a highly detailed presentation.
V. Transient Response
When it comes to body impact, hard punches in the chest and sheer and ruthless bass slam, Timekeeper 3i always shouts from a mile away: “Hold my beer and watch this!”. There is no other way in saying that I’ve never experienced a more impactful and a harder slamming integrated amplifier in my living room…here I’ve said it. A single Benchmark AHB2 can’t beat it (but two units will), my daily driver Keces S300 won’t outclass it in here, Naim Uniti Atom was far from nimble, fast and impactful. Everything else…and I mean every single power and integrated amplifier that passed through these hands wasn’t as engaging, as chest pounding and as mean as the Timekeeper 3i was in my setup. It was reeking bad attitude from the first seconds after pressing play and it never changed its character even after several weeks of constant burn-in. We all know that power is nothing without control, but luckily all those hits felt tightly controlled, it wasn’t boomy and all over the place when electronica appeared on my playlist. Those bass notes were never lingering for a micro-second longer, it was impressive not only when it comes impact, but also when it comes to speed and decay of the notes.
What’s more interesting is that even bookshelf loudspeakers would transform into wild beasts with the Timekeeper 3i in place. Those Natural Sound NS-17 ($2300) bookshelves were just snappier, sub-bass went even lower, substantially improving their dynamics and fun-factor. From a smooth and natural sounding loudspeaker, Timekeeper 3i added a double dose of adrenaline, severely improving their pace, rhythm and timing
When Dub Collection by Rebelution (Qobuz / Tidal) made an appearance on my playlist, I already knew that I’m in for a roller-coaster ride with no brakes on this one. Mixing reggae, rock a bit of electronica here in there adds a lot of contrast and ambiance, leaving little to no room for additional instrumental work. There are several tracks that have a very original vibe to them, but T3i made all that alive and punchy sounding. All those echoes and reverbs could pose a problem with a slower and mellower amplifier, but not Timekeeper’s 3i watch! There’s a lot of control, there’s a substantial thump in the chest, there is so much flow and easiness that I can’t continue without pouring myself a glass of whisky. A huge air mass is constantly moving towards me, almost taking my breath away. The good vibes are through the roof on this one, add some nasty rock drums and you get a perfect recipe for a fresh and heavyweight performance.
I want to outline that with a potent amplifier even reggae can sound bad-@ss and impactful. With such an amplifier you don’t really need bass-heavy music to feel a nasty punch and impact in the chest. Timekeeper 3i is a true testament and probably my future benchmark when it comes to pace, rhythm and timing. It was able to outperform my personal favorite Benchmark AHB2 if a single unit is being used. Burson’s creation was punching me harder, completely changing the character of several loudspeakers. With Timekeeper 3i in place, my loudspeakers never sounded loose or all over the place, but always snappy, ballsy and fearless, controlling their drivers fully down to the lowest octaves.
VI. Soundstage & Depth
Natural Sound NS-17 can scale well with a potent amplifier when it comes to note positioning around the room and stage size, but KEF’s Reference 3 are something else completely, spreading their wings once you feed them lots of high-quality power. Reference 3 are probably the pickiest loudspeakers I’ve tried at my place in a very long time, seriously outclassing the whims of Buchardt Audio’s S400. Class-D amps weren’t working that well with them, with the exception of SMSL SA400 that offered tone controls and plenty of sound presets that could awake some midrange presence, while taming the upper end. By far, the best amplifiers, that could portray an infinite stage in my room, while adding depth and meaning to my music were transistor-based class-AB or hybrid Class-A/AB amplifiers. Timekeeper 3i is of course part of this deadly squad, always adding a little bit of naturalness, some texture here and there, some bad attitude, whilst never limiting their scale on all axes.
That huge scale and depth was felt not only with loudspeakers, but with headphones as well. In all fairness, it increased the stage and felt bigger sounding even compared to a Benchmark HPA4 ($3000) working as a preamplifier, feeding the AHB2 power amplifier ($3000) of the same company. I’m not exactly sure how Burson have done it, but Timekeeper 3i will easily increase or decrease the stage size depending on the music that is being played. Class-D amps might be competing is terms of resolution, timing and decay, but they wouldn’t hold a candle when it comes to naturalness and openness. There is a strong reason the amplifiers that I’ve bought and still use on a daily basis are Class-AB amplifiers that might put a few Watts in Class-A for good measure. It was never a goal of mine going with such designs, but after long listening sessions…they just stuck in my mind and never went back.
There is an unwritten rule that well-designed amplifiers with over-engineered power supplies will never be the limiting factor when it comes to depth, imaging and scale. It seems that Burson did an amazing job with their Max Current Power Supplies that are pumping instantaneous power down low and when more air is traveling in the lowest octaves, you can feel your room denser and heavier, filled with musical notes to excess. While 100 Watts in 8 Ohms doesn’t seem like a super-powerful unit, it was more than enough for the Reference 3 and NS-17 to fill the living room and office with vibrant sounds that were hitting from different angles, creating a believable 3D image around me.
VII. Passing the Susvara test
If you are a loudspeaker headbanger only, then please skip it to the next chapter and don’t look back, but if you are a Hifiman Susvara user and those are still boring and lightweight in terms of dynamics with all your headphone amplifiers, then please carry on!
Hifiman Susvara is not your average headphone and in most cases, it isn’t working that well with regular headphone amplifiers. I’m not about their frequency response, I’m not about a very high SPL, I’m not about a higher distortion, nor about clipping. I’m about dynamics or how thumping, impactful and engaging they can sound. I own several headphone amplifiers, some of them were barely okay with them, some weren’t working at all and some were good to great with Susvara. From a bunch of headphone amplifiers, I believe that Flux Lab Acoustics Volot and Burson Soloist 3X worked the best, elevating their dynamics and engagement to the next level. My own Benchmark HPA4 and most THX-AAA amplifiers weren’t that impressive, as on several occasions higher dynamic range tracks would shut down completely that HPA4…not cool.
After trying plenty of integrated and power amplifiers at my place with Susvara, only a few units improved their dynamics to unrecognizable. From them all, Benchmark AHB2 put in bridged mode (2 x AHB2), offered the highest engagement factor, the most impactful presentation and sincerely…the absolute best dynamics I’ve ever heard in my life out of headphones. It is my honor to mention that Timekeeper 3i is being added into this very short loudspeaker amplifier list, that worked outstanding with the notorious Susvara. From my own experience with around 10 integrated and power amplifiers combined, Timekeeper 3i comes as numero uno as an all-in-one unit. It worked as a DAC + integrated amplifier driving them fully and unleashing higher dynamics compared to any other amp…except for two AHB2 put in bridged mode.
The amount of bass slam coming out those tiny drivers was stunning and nothing short of spectacular. Three close friends of mine paid me a visit listening to this exact combo, I didn’t need to ask them anything as the look on their faces told me everything I needed to know. Forget anything you know about transient response with headphones, as Susvara being driver by the Timekeeper 3i for me is a solid 99 out of 100. It could easily be the last all-in-one unit for your precious Susvara. One word of advice though…since Timekeeper 3i doesn’t have any protection circuits (over-voltage, over-current and short-circuit), I recommend plugging in and out the Susvara only when Timekeeper 3i is still running.
If I wouldn’t have the AHB2, then I could easily live with a single Timekeeper 3i driving my loudspeakers, all my headphones, including the Hifiman Susvara, I’m beyond impressed!
VIII. Bluetooth Performance
This will be a much shorter chapter, because there is really not that much to say about its Bluetooth capabilities. I have already tested Qualcomm’s flagship CSR8675 receiver more than ~20 times already, not only on desktop units, but on many portable units too and most of them performed very well. Obviously, desktop units that had an external antenna had a wider Bluetooth coverage, since it works as a signal booster.
There is a small error on Burson’s website and I suggest updating it with fresh info that I’m going to mention. Burson brings up AptX-HD as being the best codec supported by the Timekeeper 3i. To my surprise, my smartphone sees it as LDAC compatible unit and that’s a much better codec to AptX-HD (990 kbit/s VS 576 kbit/s), that could easily receive even 24 bit / 96 kHz lossless content via Bluetooth, which is amazing.
My smartphone natively supports all those codecs, including LDAC and AptX-HD data streams, it is also Bluetooth 5.0 enabled, so I will be squeezing the best T3i is capable of.
Timekeeper 3i appears to have a rock-solid Bluetooth performance, since two concrete walls didn’t pose a problem for it, even from a substantial distance. Ten meters away and the signal was still going strong and only when I moved to the balcony, with 3 concrete walls in between, it started stuttering and losing a few beats. In an open space I’ve tried as hard as I could, but I never lost its signal, so you can easily use that feature in the living room if you will. BT connection was strong enough and it worked flawlessly in my case.
Sending music from my smartphone that was connected to several streaming services as Qobuz and Tidal worked as a charm and LDAC codec sounded almost indistinguishable to its wired connections if I was playing lossless 16-bit PCM files. Bottom line is that it worked good with all Bluetooth senders, but those that supported BT 5.0 and LDAC codec worked the best.
IX. Frequency Response
There wasn’t a single Burson device that didn’t impress me right away when it comes to low-end delivery, speed, sustain and decay. Burson is well known to offer some of the juiciest bass notes you could possibly desire and Timekeeper 3i is taking the crown as their most impressive device in this regard. At first, its bass output might appear as elevated and highlighted just a little, but that is not really the case. This is exactly how a proper bass note should be born, maintained and decayed. The sheer bass impact and that serious kick in the chest can’t be forgotten that easily, there is slightly more energy in there and your bookshelf loudspeakers will be thankful for that. Burson delivers not only when it comes to quantity, because there is also texture, there is warmth, presence, a fast start and stop of those notes. It also offers a high-quality type of bass, as you can feel it vibrating and slowly passing through in the room. It is a highly detailed type of bass, it is fast, it pounds and decays at the exact time. The whole bass region felt layered, effortless and powerful, without a single trace of distortion.
In this regard, Timekeeper 3i feels like a big departure from smaller Class-D amplifiers and even from several Class-AB amplifiers that I still have around me. In all seriousness, I don’t believe I’ve heard an integrated amplifier that is more impressive in the bass department. In my view, Burson’s amp is clearly a scary transient response monster, thanks to an immaculate bass reproduction down to the smallest nuances. What’s more important is that I’ve never experienced a trace of muddiness or veil. It came, it saw, it conquered and I wish more integrated amplifiers would sound as fearless and impactful. Hats Off! This is one of the nicest bass performances I’ve experienced with loudspeakers.
You are most certainly interested in transistor based integrated amplifiers biased into Class AB for their organic and life-like midrange rendition. Some amps are doing that worse and some are doing it better, but those that completely ditched op-amps for good, would always sound a little warmer, smoother and would go easier on the ear. Timekeeper 3i is exactly like that, with it there is simply more emotions to be felt when strings instruments are playing. Vocal performance is to die for…there is definitely something going on as I’m hearing male voices carry a lot more air and weight. I would describe the Timekeeper 3i as mildly warm and a little elevated in the midrange department, more so than its Conductor 3 and Soloist 3 siblings. It is almost unbelievable that two ESS Sabre DAC chips are sitting somewhere inside, as Burson traded some linearity with warmth, texture and tonal density. Everything happening in this region just feels heavier, male voices are going lower and female voices are going higher, like there is a higher dynamic range in my music that I know for a lifetime. You’ll never experience dryness, thinness or listening fatigue with it, as Burson’s creation blooms with life, always trying to impress with its musicality, precision and control.
From a double-ESS Sabre device that uses discrete components at its output stage you can expect an immaculate treble rendition that could go sky high, without damaging its tonality. There is as much detail, definition and contour in the treble as you could possibly desire, without making it a burden in long-listening sessions. Brass sounded like it, it was metallic and raw, cymbals clashed, dynamics exploded and yet I wasn’t clenching my teeth…I find it extended way past top-octave and you can hear that loud and clear, without focusing on anything particular. I enjoyed listening to my older rock tunes at higher volumes and the sound wasn’t breaking up at all. It was equally impressive at low-level listening and when I went overboard a little. Hifiman Susvara are probably the cleanest and the most transparent sounding headphones I’ve heard up to this point, put them on a bright sounding setup and from a $6000 headphone, those are transforming into $100 headphones, as they become unbearable to listen to. Put them in an organic and natural sounding setup and Susvara will show their best, while maintaining a highly transparent and clean sounding nature. Timekeeper 3i was a match made in heaven with them, providing clean & undistorted power, while keeping at bay all the negative treble ringing.
Overall, I would describe it as organic and life-like sounding, tilting a little towards musicality. It is definitely a little warmer and thicker sounding to most integrated amplifiers I’ve experienced thus far. It has a lot of meat to the bone, infusing some of its own medicine into the mix.
There is one single drawback with the Timekeeper 3i but that’s mostly nitpicking from my part. It doesn’t have a wireless streamer inside, that would be a legendary all-in-one Burson device and I hope such a day will come when I’ll be controlling every setting and playlists with my fingertips. There’s another small drawback…a simple On/Off button on that remote control would be lovely to have and really helpful.
At first, I was thinking that $2500 (including shipping) was quite a lot, but after playing with it for more than two weeks now, driving two pairs of loudspeakers and a full-stack of headphones, I’m placing my right hand on my heart and I’m telling you that Burson is offering a lot more in return. With it…everything plays at a high level, its DAC section is up there with the best D/S units, its headphone amplifier could drive almost anything with flying colors and of course its integrated amplifier section sounded highly engaging, always making me move, smile, toe-tap and head-bang like a madman. This isn’t your dead-neutral, linear and straight as a line amplifier, this is engagement factor in its truest form. It’s highly dynamic and impactful, not wanting to deliver the usual dynamics, but exceeding your wildest expectations. If the speed limit is 50 Km/H, then it would be cruising at 150 Km/H with a wild smile on its metallic face. Once music starts playing, nothing can stop it, with exception of classical, blues, jazz and of course…Diana Krall.
I really think it’s worth every single penny, as you are getting a 4-in-1 device that looks and sounds outstanding. Considering its build quality, feature set and ultimately its sound performance, I’m happy to award it our highest badge.
Out of six Burson devices tested around here, it is the first one to get a Gold Award, truthfully, it’s fully deserved! Congratulations to the team and I’m looking forward to their next doings.
You can get the Burson Timekeeper 3i directly from Burson Audio for $2499 (including shipping) by following this link, or you can contact your local Burson Audio distributor for a listening session.
- Rock solid build quality, unique casework that doubles as a giant heat-sink
- Small footprint to your usual integrated and power amplifiers
- A no-compromise and feature-packed 5-in-1 device
- Highly impressive DAC section
- Excellent fully-discrete Preamplifier section
- Powerful integrated amplifier section, easily driving a pair of bookshelf and standfloor loudspeakers
- Noiseless performance with headphones and speakers alike
- An extended frequency response at both ends
- One of the widest stages I’ve experienced with loudspeakers
- Precise and accurate pin-point location of the notes, amazing depth
- Dynamics, Dynamics and again Dynamics!
- Power is nothing without control, luckily it had an iron grip over loudspeakers & headphones
- Going for a life-like and organic music reproduction. It awakes emotions and always grabs my soul.
- No dips in frequency response and no distortion at higher volumes
- Probably the best all-in-one unit I’ve tested thus far
- An Outstanding Value!
- You cannot turn it On/Off via its remote control
- It gets hot after about an hour or so (I strongly recommend getting the Cool Stand)
- DACs: Burson Timekeeper 3i, Musician Aquarius, Rockna Wavelight, Audiobyte HydraVox & HydraZap, Matrix Audio Element X, Gold Note DS-10 Plus & PSU-10 Evo, Gustard X26 PRO, X16, Topping D90SE
- DAPs: FiiO M11 Plus LTD, M15, Shanling M8, M6, M3X
- Headphone Amps: Flux Lab Acoustics Volot, Benchmark HPA4, Singxer SA-1, Burson Soloist 3X, Musician Andromeda, SMSL SP400, Topping A90, Gustard H16
- Preamps: Benchmark HPA4, Topping PRE90
- Power Amps: Benchmark AHB2, KECES S300, SMSL SA400, DA9, Burson Timekeeper 3i
- Loudspeakers: KEF Reference 3, Natural Sound NS-17
- IEMs: FiiO FA9, FH7, FH5S, FD5, Meze Rai Penta, Rai Solo, LittleDot Cu KIS, Hiby Crystal 6 & others
- Portable headphones: Sennheiser Momentum 2, Meze 99 Classics, Sony WH1000-XM4
- Full-sized headphones: Hifiman Susvara, HE1000SE, Arya, HE400SE, Audeze LCD-4, Erzetich Phobos, Erzetich Mania, Kennerton Wodan, Magni, Gjallarhorn, Vali, M12S, Ollo S4X Reference, Apos Caspian & others
- Interconnects: QED Reference (x2), Topping TCX1 (x2)
- Speaker cables: Kimber PR8, Audioquest Type4
- Power Cables: Isotek EVO3 Premier (x3)
- Balanced Isolation Power Conditioners: PLiXiR Elite BAC1500, Elite BAC400