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Burmester 216 power amplifier

Burmester 216 power amplifier

Burmester’s 216 power amplifier has big shoes to fill. The new amplifier replaces the evergreen 911, a core component of the company’s popular Top Line. While the 911 has undergone major changes in its lifespan, it’s a power amplifier that has been in continuous production since 1991. Replacing such an iconic power amplifier is no easy task.

However, the 216 – and its bigger brother, the 218 from the brand’s Reference Line – draws inspiration and technology from the huge 159 mono amps. It also draws from the 159’s aesthetics too; while mirror-polished chrome is always going to be a Burmester signature in all its product, the 216 and its kin have a more subdued and less immediately ‘bling’ appearance compared to the 911 Mk 3 it replaces.

Even more classic

The 216’s lines are less busy, more ‘classic’ than the 911 Mk 3. This is perhaps most noticeable on the top-plate, which is a simple and understated brushed aluminium panel with the Burmester signature cut into the top. Compare this to the groove-laden 911 panel with its shiny chrome front section and raised triangular design. The new amplifier is slightly bigger but sits on smaller feet so takes up almost the same physical space in room. Also, the heatsinks give it a look not dissimilar to the Parthenon in macrocosm. It’s still every inch a Burmester, but a more subdued Burmester of the 2020s.

Playing with the 911 Mk 3’s performance is a tough call for Burmester. The amplifier is considered one of the fastest sounding big power amplifiers from a major brand. It was always hand-built but built to a standard that few in the audio world can replicate, and most of those amplifiers that sound similarly fast often do so at the expense of that unburstable build (or, in some cases, bass performance). In many respects, the 911 Mk 3 had it all; plenty of power, a world-class performance, and the ability to be driven in dual mono as an upgrade. Why change?

Burmester 216

In no small part, the 159 project highlighted the limitations of the 911 Mk 3. The flagship mono amp can drive any loudspeaker to impressive levels. While this is a function of all Burmester’s amps, the gulf separating those existing amps and the 159 was still profound. Burmester wanted to give its Top Line uses more than just a taste of what the 159 can do. It took some time – in part because there’s a lot at stake – but the result is impressive.

Completely symmetrical

Common to all Burmester designs, the 100W per channel 216 is a completely symmetrical design; there aren’t even single-ended RCA inputs on the back panel. It uses the Class A ‘X-Amp’ input stage technology from the 159 and a DC-coupled signal path free from capacitors. The signal path is also clear of any protection circuitry. Not that a protection circuit will ever kick in here (I kind of feel sorry for the person who designs protection circuitry for Burmester amps. It’s like overseeing the salad at a Texas barbeque or designing indicators for BMWs… your life’s work is forever unused). We used this with its natural partner; the 088 preamp, and did have the 911 Mk 3 on hand for comparison purposes.

As a 911 Mk 3 user, I know the amplifier’s strengths and weaknesses. Clearly though, so does Burmester as the 216 power amplifier builds on the 911 Mk 3’s strengths and reduces its few weak points if not to zero, at least significantly. The big strength of the 911 Mk 3 was its deep and profoundly powerful bass. It had that rare property of control with an effortless ability to be let off the leash when required, like in horses and (TV) gangsters. And it’s a pleasure to say the 216 not only retains that ‘uncontrolled control’ bass, but it adds extra depth, precision, control, and ability to ‘wig out’ too. That doesn’t necessarily mean building a mosh pit in your living room, but it does mean you put on ‘Killing In The Name’ by Rage Against The Machine on their eponymous debut album [Epic].

Deeply impressive

The way this 216 amplifier handles dynamics is deeply impressive too. This might come as less of a surprise given the amplifier is effectively a power reservoir with speaker terminals, but often such chunkiness comes with some not-insignifcant inertia. This is perhaps the biggest change from 911 Mk3 to 216; while the older amp was no sluggard when it came to swinging dynamics, the 216 sounds a lot more reactive and dynamically, er, dynamic.

Play Rachmaninov’s ‘Symphonic Dances’ [Zinman, Telarc] and the impact of those bursts of orchestral energy are reproduced with far greater speed and intensity. The attack and decay of notes is given greater ‘snap’ as if the sound is in more temporal focus. On the 911 Mk3, the scale of the sound quickly made up for the slight lack of speed, but in the 216 no such trade-off happens; you get both the force and the speed.

In fact, both of these aspects of performance make you forget this is a 100W amplifier; the sheer forcefullness of the sound makes you think this is a more powerful amplifier, while its speed makes you think of those low-powered, sweet sounding integrated amplifiers. All the time with the characteristic Burmester ‘universal’ touch (the 911 Mk 3 was the solid-state amp that valve amp lovers could live with, yet wasn’t so soft sounding that it would disenfranchise solid-state lovers). This universal nature – made so much more with the 216 – is reflected in the amp’s catholic tastes in music.

You could line up practically any piece of music from any genre and the 216 would extract the best from it. OK, so I didn’t play any Noh or free jazz so I couldn’t tick every box, but everything I played from the moste cavernous deep bass (from Trentemøller and Orbital) to the most delicate and cerebral of piano work (Andreas Schiff playing Beethoven’s piano sonatas on ECM) and while nothing tripped up the 911 Mk 3, the 216 also showed just what the intervening decades have done in amplifier design. The 216 takes an already even-handed sophisticate of a power amplifier and shows what extra balance, extra refinement and additional grunt and musicality can do.

In the wider power amplfiier context, the 216 is in a very fine place. It’s a phenominally cohesive and coherent sounding amplifier; difficult pieces of music – like works from Orange [Caroline Shaw and the Attacca Quartet, Nonesuch] – are adeptly decoded. Not cheapened or trivialised; decoded or unpacked. They retain all the complexity of the original work, but are as open to the listener as is possible. This is one of the more exciting aspects of listening to music through a Burmester amplifier system and it wins many over to the cause. The 216 just does that decoding slightly better than before.

A good power amplifier is like a Victorian child; it should be seen and not heard. OK, it needs to make sound (of course… otherwise the 216 is a £24,000 footrest) but the 216 achieves that goal of ‘straight wire with gain’ that is supposedly easy to achieve, but so few amps successully achieve. This adds and subtracts practically nothing to the overall sound of the system, in all the right ways!.

Back to the 911

The comparison between old and new is fascinating. There’s not much the 911 Mk3 does wrong… until you compare it to the 216. The tonal balance and general qualities of the two amps are functionally identical. This is great because no-one wanting to upgrade from one to the other is going to miss any tonal characteristics of the 911 Mk 3. However, it also quickly becomes obvious that the 216 is the more liquid sounding of the two, is more dynamic, has better bass definition and control, a more even sounding treble, a more open midrange, a keener sense of rhythm… everything. In short, it really does bring all the properties of the 159 down to more ‘attainable’ price levels.

Burmester 216

The differences taken singularly are not that substantial, but the more you listen to the two side-by-side, the more you realise they accumulate. After about ten minutes of playing the 216, returning to the 911 Mk 3 is hard. It’s somewhere between having to live with that saloon car after a track day hard and having to wear your old glasses while waiting for your new prescription pair hard.

The 216 represents a Burmester for the 2020s and beyond. It takes all that went before and improves on that without making sacrifices along the way. A good power amplifier should be impressive without being ‘obvious’; it makes an impression by perfect interpretation of the preamp and perfect control of the loudspeakers, and that makes the 216 damn near perfect!

Technical specifications

  • Type Balanced solid-state power amplifier
  • Power output (both channels driven) 100W/8Ω, 165W/4Ω, 245W/2Ω
  • Input XLR balanced (stereo or mono bridged), unbalanced input via adaptor
  • Trigger input DC input/output for remote on/off, BurLink interface
  • Dimensions (W×H×D) 49.6 × 19.1 × 47.9cm
  • Weight 35kg
  • Price £23,800


Burmester GmbH

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