If I were to freely associate on the stimulus “Burmester,” my immediate response would probably be “amplifier.” After that I might say “Dieter,” followed by “chrome” and then, probably, “quality.” What wouldn’t come to mind, at least not right away, is “loudspeakers.”
In light of the history of Burmester’s products, this associative process is forgivable. The late Dieter Burmester (1946-2015) founded Burmester Audiosysteme in 1977, after earning a degree in electrical engineering and running his own engineering consultancy, which specialized in computer interfaces and circuit technology for medical measuring instruments. In 1978 Burmester introduced his first amplifier, finished with a chrome faceplate, and two years later introduced the world’s first modular preamplifier, the 808. Over the next decade, Dieter Burmester would engineer and introduce other pioneering technologies: symmetrical switching (1983), a fully DC-coupled signal path from pickup to speaker (1987), the first belt-driven CD player (1991), and, in his 948 power conditioner, active power regulation (1994). It wasn’t until 1997 that Burmester expanded his brand’s highly successful product line to include speakers, and it’s that company’s latest speaker, the Ambience BA71, that I review here.
The BA71 is one of two speaker models offered in Burmester’s newer Ambience line. The Ambiences -- the BA71 ($55,000 USD per pair) and its smaller sibling, the BA31 ($25,000/pair) -- earn their first names by way of a revised adjustable Air Motion Transformer (AMT) tweeter on each speaker’s rear panel, intended to augment the speaker pair’s reproduction of apparent space.
Measuring 48.5”H x 11.9”W x 19.7”D, the Ambience BA71 is a large, three-way, bass-reflex design that tips the scale at 132 pounds, has eight drivers, and an overall specified frequency response of 35Hz-40kHz, ±3dB. With a claimed sensitivity of 89dB and a minimum impedance of 4 ohms, the BA71 should be able to be driven by any decent quality amplifier. However, after spending some time with these speakers, and realizing how utterly revealing they are, I suggest that quality of output, not quantity, rule one’s choice of partnering amp.
Looking at the BA71 straight on, the top third of the front baffle is occupied by two 6.7” midrange drivers with fiberglass/paper cones, one above and one below an AMT tweeter in a typical midrange-tweeter-midrange (MTM) arrangement. The three drivers are enclosed in their own sealed subcabinet isolated from the column of four 6.7” fiberglass/paper-cone woofers below them, the latter venting through two large, flared, plastic-lined ports around back. The two 6.7” midrange drivers and four 6.7” woofers look similar in design because they are. All six were designed in cooperation with an external supplier, and are powered by the same Balanced Drive motor system and 1.5”, heavy-duty, air-cooled voice-coil of fiberglass. Each of these six drivers is suspended using the same unique, low-loss surround, designed to better facilitate the reproduction of low-level detail and reduce dynamic limitations. The midranges are wired together in series and have a bandpass of 180Hz-2.6kHz; the woofers, also wired in series, handle everything from 180Hz down to 35Hz, below which their output rapidly rolls off.
Around back, directly below the ports, are the heavy-duty, high-quality cable terminals. The four outer terminals are tied together with jumper cables (supplied) and are for use with spades; four more terminals provide connections for banana plugs. At the top is the rear-firing AMT tweeter, in its own subenclosure and controlled by a tactilely notched gain attenuator. AMT and dial are surrounded by an anodized-aluminum panel that, like the front baffle, acoustically isolates the tweeter but doesn’t match the finish of the front baffle. Specific details regarding the AMTs used in the BA71 were few, but Burmester does say that, like the 6.7” drivers, the AMT was designed to Burmester’s specs in cooperation with an external supplier. Each has a Kapton polyimide folded-foil diaphragm weighing only 0.4gm, and Burmester claims that the face is seven times larger than that of a conventional dome tweeter. The diaphragm is driven by an extremely strong neodymium magnet that is not magnetically shielded, and that exerted almost enough magnetic pull through the aluminum front fascia to hold in place my Bosch laser measuring device as I positioned the speakers.
Inside each BA71 are four high-quality crossover networks. Burmester says that each network is assembled from silver-gold-oil capacitors, foil coils, noninductive resistors, and various other high-quality parts. To minimize signal degradation, each network is placed close to its drivers: one for the bass drivers, one for the midrange drivers, and one for each AMT tweeter, the rear-firing AMT using a unique second-order crossover interacting with an L regulator.
All seven front-firing drivers are mounted on a handsome, acoustically decoupled baffle of CNC-machined and anodized aluminum. The BA71’s unassuming yet handsomely finished cabinet is made entirely of MDF of unspecified thickness, and all internal wiring is seven-gauge. A rap with a knuckle on their cabinets told me that, in terms of inertness, the BA71s are more in line with my reference Paradigm Persona 7Fs than Tidal’s tomb-like Piano G2s.
Inside, the BA71 is stiffened with a combination of MDF bracing and Bondum 800 damping material placed to reduce internal standing waves. Each speaker is supported by a heavy-duty yet sveltely integrated plinth standing on four spikes, each of which sits in a little puck, to save your hardwood floors. Like the BA31, the BA71 can be ordered in one of five high-gloss finishes -- makassar, light or dark walnut, white or black enamel -- each of which can be complemented with your choice of baffle: silver, medium bronzed, or black. Other finishes are available on request, starting at a 20% upcharge.
This was a challenge. I first placed the Ambience BA71s about 2’ from my sidewalls, 5’ from the front wall, 8’ apart, and toed in -- the final resting places of my Paradigm Persona 7Fs. With no further tweaking of positions, the BA71s sounded bright, the center image was hazy, the midbass too reserved. I got out the laser measure, fired up Room EQ Wizard, and began moving things around. After about two hours of being tweaked and listened to, the BA71s ended up 2’ 5” from the sidewalls, 4’ from the front wall, and their toe-in had been reduced about 8°. This helped smooth that somewhat aggressive-sounding AMT, brought the center image into focus, and provided a more balanced midbass response.
I drove the BA71s with a PS Audio DirectStream DAC, my reference Simaudio Moon Evolution P8 preamplifier and Moon Evolution W-7M monoblocks, and a Dell E7440 Ultrabook computer running JRiver Media Center 20. Everything was plugged into a Torus AVR-20 power conditioner, itself fed wall power from a dedicated 20A circuit. All components were tied together with a host of Clarus Crimson balanced interconnects, USB links, speaker cables, and power cords.
With the Ambience BA71s positioned as best as I could manage, and before doing any serious listening, I let them burn in for a good 200 hours, which gave me time to think about why I’d had so much trouble getting these speakers to sound right in my room. I concluded that there were just too many cooks in the kitchen. My first struggle had been with the BA71s’ MTM arrays and getting the image to snap into focus: I’d found that the Burmesters’ listening window was very narrow -- I had to position my head just so between the speakers. My next challenge was with the AMT: when I listened on its axis, the sound was just too bright, even with the rear, ambience AMT dialed all the way down. As I reduced the speakers’ toe-in to smooth out the AMTs, I had to be very careful not to lose proper imaging. Minimizing toe-in seemed to increase the efficacy of the rear-firing AMT, but I had to be careful here, too -- if I got too greedy for ambience, the increased high-frequency energy translated to a leaner upper midbass, emphasizing the brightness from the front-firing AMT.
The good news: Given enough time, patience, and discipline, and an unwillingness to settle for the good enough, it was possible to dial in the Ambience BA71s to sound good. Moreover, dialing up those rear AMTs really did add spaciousness to the soundstage, and in a very linear and predictable manner. This means that the BA71 actually can be, to some degree, adjusted to suit its environment. For most of my time with the BA71s, I found that the best balance of high-frequency energy and space was attained by setting the rear AMTs to about 40%.
Listening to “Keith Don’t Go,” from Nils Lofgren’s Acoustic Live (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Capitol/Tidal), I quickly realized that the BA71s could reproduce stringed instruments seductively well. Not only could I hear the resonance of each plucked string, the transient control and microlevel detail reproduced by the BA71s was captivating. Microlevel dynamics were also wonderfully communicated, enabling me to easily hear the force with which Lofgren plucked each string. But trying different settings of the rear AMTs while listening to this track taught me an important lesson: Once you’ve found the right balance of space and tonality, leave that dial alone. Increasing the AMTs’ gain greatly widened the soundstage, as particularly revealed by the audience sounds toward the end of the track -- but repeated listenings revealed that Lofgren’s strings had lost some of their body, and taken on a more wispy, metallic character.
Lesson learned, I returned both rear AMT dials to the 40% setting, and moved on to “Slow Burn,” from Kacey Musgraves’s Golden Hour (24/96 MQA, Mercury/Tidal). Musgraves’s voice was appropriately projected center stage, complemented by Daniel Tashian’s bass, and, to her left, Ian Fitchuk’s banjo. As with Lofgren’s acoustic guitar, Musgraves’s and Fitchuk’s strings were cleanly re-created, but it was Musgraves’s voice that captured my attention for how pronounced it was -- as if she were a couple dB louder than everything else onstage. Had I not heard this track through other speakers, such as my Persona 7Fs, I might have simply assumed that this is how this album was produced. But direct comparisons of this track through both speakers showed that the BA71s were adding a bit of presence to the singer’s voice -- the more I listened, the more I realized it was because the front-firing AMT was still overshadowing the six other front drivers, as if the upper midrange had been tilted up 1dB while the highs remained flat at 0dB and the bass was notched back 1dB. While at times this made for intriguingly enticing vocals, I was consistently reminded that the BA71s’ tonal balance was off. I tried dialing back the ambience AMTs to compensate, and while this helped, Musgraves’s voice now sounded smaller and too dense.
Scrolling through my Tidal playlist, I stumbled on other favorites: “Sign of the Times,” from Harry Styles’s self-titled album (16/44.1 FLAC, Columbia/Tidal); and “Alive and Kicking,” from Simple Minds’ long-loved Once Upon a Time (16/44.1 FLAC, Virgin/Tidal). From the get-go, the BA71s’ uptilted midrange shone a light on hints of grain and sibilance in “Sign of the Times” that I’m not used to hearing. But they also communicated a lot of really good things -- such as a seriously hard-hitting bass line, and a refreshingly focused piano that floated to the right of Styles without being blurred by everything else onstage. In “Alive and Kicking,” the BA71s did a fantastic job of re-creating the inner detail of hi-hats without over-emphasizing them, and imaging the drums just to right of center stage with a sense of genuine presence.
Reminded of just how much I love 1980s music, I skipped ahead to “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody),” from the Talking Heads’ Speaking in Tongues (16/44.1 FLAC, Sire/Tidal). Though released in 1983, this track didn’t really gain notoriety until being used in Oliver Stone’s 1987 blockbuster hit Wall Street. Replete with unique instrumental sounds, spatial cues, and synth bass, “This Must Be the Place” was my preferred pop track to hear through the BA71s -- the Burmesters easily possessed the precision and alacrity demanded by such a highly nuanced, transient-rich recording. The synth bass was fast and punchy, with enough depth to easily anchor the track. David Byrne’s voice cleanly imaged at center stage, sounding refreshingly neutral and balanced, and synthesized effects were appropriately transient where that was intended, while various percussion instruments showed contrasting levels of decay.
As I continued to play tracks from my Tidal Playlists, jumping from genre to genre, I came to realize that the BA71s excelled at re-creating instrumental music, particularly jazz, more than pop, rock, and other vocal-based genres. “Take Five,” from the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Time Out (16/44.1 FLAC, Columbia/Tidal), was reinvented with a grandeur I’ve rarely heard from non-electrostatic speakers. Paul Desmond’s alto sax soared into my room, chock-full of inner detail and dynamic inflection. Likewise Joe Morello’s taps of his cymbals off to the left; I could easily hear the shimmer and decay of each stroke, while enjoying the varying weights of each blow he delivered to his skins. Finally, Brubeck’s piano had weight and density with each key depressed -- and the transient finesse evinced by the rapid decays of those keystrokes proved that the BA71 had no problem reproducing the sound of one of the most difficult-to-reproduce instruments there is.
While my reference Paradigm Persona 7F speakers ($25,000/pair) cost less than half the price of a pair of Ambience BA71s, the two models are far more alike than different. They’re both bass-reflex designs, with MDF cabinets of similar dimensions, internal volumes, weight, and design. Despite the fact that the Burmester has twice as many drivers, the Paradigm has a wider specified frequency response -- 24Hz-45kHz vs. 35Hz-40kHz -- and is more efficient.
But in A/B comparisons of the two models, differences in output level were not immediately apparent. What was immediately evident was the BA71’s unbalanced tonality, due to its overactive front-firing AMT tweeter. The AMT itself is a fantastic tweeter -- it’s clean, smooth, and does an admirable job of communicating that last iota of inner detail and environment without sounding strained, even at elevated listening levels. Moreover, I didn’t really notice any more or less information being communicated by the AMT in direct comparison to Paradigm’s 1” Truextent beryllium-dome tweeter. Variances in midrange reproduction were easier to hear; the Paradigm, overall, sounded a bit more pure and neutral, and created images in space with slightly more focus when I wasn’t sitting smack-dab in the sweet spot. The Paradigms’ more organic-sounding midrange also gave me the impression that they could probably play louder in a larger room without approaching the cooler side of neutral. When I did sit in just the right space and those rear-firing AMTs were dialed in just right, the BA71s were capable of producing an astounding soundstage, complete with accurately chiseled images, that was both wider and deeper than the Paradigms’.
Comparing the Burmesters’ and Paradigms’ bass performance proved interesting. Properly positioned, the Ambience BA71s presented a slightly lean upper midbass that bloomed smoothly as it descended to a strong upper bass and below, a bass spectrum effortlessly maintained all the way down to its specified 35Hz cutoff. No matter how loudly I played these speakers, I never heard any strain or lack of control in the bottom end; more important, at all but the lowest volume levels, the bottom end sounded proportionately weighted. The 7Fs sounded similar, requiring a bit more volume for lower frequencies to sound proportionate, but below 35Hz, the 7Fs proved more capable. Listening to “Thanks to You,” from Boz Scaggs’s Dig (16/44.1 FLAC, Virgin/Tidal), I could hear every note of bass energy, particularly those below 30Hz, with wonderfully preserved texture, weight, and tone. The BA71s did a commendable job here too, providing me with a hint more bass energy down to and slightly below 35Hz, but nothing below 30Hz, which left a gaping hole of bass information in this track.
It may be unfair to judge a speaker’s performance below the lower limit of its specified frequency response. However, I think that a speaker that costs more than twice as much as the Paradigm Persona 7F, and has more than twice the radiating area dedicated to producing bass below 180Hz, should be able to provide more bass than it did in my room.
In the end, both of these speakers were quite enjoyable to listen to; what separated them was not the quality of sonic information they conveyed, but its quantity. The Burmester Ambience BA71s had a very detailed, fleshed-out sound that unfortunately never let me forget the fact that I was listening to a pair of speakers. The Paradigm Persona 7Fs dependably sounded more cohesive and balanced, and always let me forget all about the speakers to focus solely on the music.
At $55,000/pair, Burmester’s Ambience BA71 is the most expensive loudspeaker I have reviewed, and my expectations were high. Their beautifully veneered cabinets and meticulously anodized aluminum baffles drip with class, and in use they regularly presented me with music abounding in refinement, detail, and fortitude. Nonetheless, it was clear that these speakers were happier playing jazz or instrumental music rather than rock or pop. Had it not been for a mild tonal imbalance instilled in this speaker by an AMT tweeter that constantly demands to be the center of attention, I might have concluded this review with an enthusiastic recommendation. Nonetheless, I can still say that Burmester’s Ambience BA71 has a lot to offer -- if you’re in the market for a floorstanding speaker capable, at least in part, of being tailored to its listening environment, the BA71 deserves to be auditioned.
. . . Aron Garrecht
- Speakers -- Paradigm Persona 7F, Tidal Piano G2
- Subwoofers -- JL Audio Fathom f112 (2)
- Amplifiers -- Parasound Halo A 51 (five-channel), Simaudio Moon Evolution W-7M (monoblocks)
- Preamplifiers -- Anthem AVM 60, Simaudio Moon Evolution P-8
- Digital-to-analog converters -- PS Audio DirectStream, Simaudio Moon Evolution 780D
- Sources -- Oppo Digital BDP-103 universal BD player, Dell E7440 Ultrabook laptop computer running Windows 10, JRiver Media Center 20
- Cables -- Clarus Crimson S/PDIF, USB links, balanced interconnects, speaker cables, power cords
- Power conditioner -- Torus AVR-20
Burmester Ambience BA71 Loudspeakers
Price: $55,000 USD per pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
Burmester Home Audio GmbH
Phone: +49 (0) 30-787968-0
Fax: +49 (0) 30-787968-68