German brand Burmester deserves to be considered as hi-fi royalty. It has been building premium amplification since the late 70s and has grown into one of the stalwarts of the high-end industry, making every part of the audio chain from record players and music steamers to speakers.
Costing over £36,000, the 088 preamplifier and 911 Mk 3 power amplifier combination might be hugely expensive, but it still only sits around halfway up the brand’s range. Choose Burmester’s top stereo pre/power pairing, the 077 and 159 monoblocs, and you’re looking at the best part of £180,000.
Being midway up the company’s range doesn’t give the 088/911 Mk 3 pairing a free pass though. It still has to dazzle and be comparable to the very best around, regardless of price. We’re pleased to report that it does just that.
The 088 borrows heavily from that range-topping 077 preamp. It too is a dual-mono design, something that helps stereo imaging and maintains consistency between channels. The signal path is DC-coupled, as is traditional for Burmester, so there aren’t any capacitors in the way of the music signal. This is claimed to improve bass definition and phase coherence.
Take a look inside and you’ll find the circuits are beautifully laid out, and it’s obvious that the company takes a great deal of care in the quality of components used and in minimising unwanted interaction between them. There’s even a carbon fibre suspension system to reduce the amount of external vibration that enters the 088’s chassis. The aim of this isolation is to optimise clarity and reduce distortion.
The preamp’s connectivity is good. There are six line level inputs – all balanced XLRs – and the option of having a DAC, line, moving magnet or moving coil module. You get one of these modules as part of the price we’ve quoted, but if you want another it’ll cost a hefty £2,600. If any of your sources only have single-ended outputs, don’t worry, Burmester can supply RCA to XLR adaptors to make things work.
Outputs are limited to a single stereo pair of balanced XLRs or a rear panel mounted 6.3mm headphone jack. Unusually, Burmester still specifies a fixed level line output for those that still want to record, which is a nice touch.
We love the toggle switches on the 088’s front panel. They feel so positive in use and govern functions like gain level and the amount of dimming applied to the display. You’ll find rotary dials for input and volume on that immaculately chromed front panel. These dials feel wonderfully precise in use and have a chunky feel that fills us with confidence.
The supplied system remote is a fairly generic OEM design and recognisably related to the one Naim used in its previous generation of products. But, here it is metal-cased and feels pretty classy. Of course, being a system remote means that there are lots of buttons that you don’t use with the 088 preamp, but things become intuitive pretty quickly.
The 911 Mk 3 is a simpler beast than the pre, as power amplifiers normally are. It’s a big unit at almost 50cm wide and weighs in at a chunky 32kg. Take care if you decide to lift it alone, though, as the combination of weight and shape make it awkward to move. There’s only a single pair of balanced XLR inputs and a hefty set of multi-way speaker cable terminals.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to find that this is something of a powerhouse. It’s rated at 180W per channel into 8 ohms and almost doubles that as impedance halves. That amount of drive means that the 911 Mk 3 can power any domestic speaker to high volumes without issue. The abundance of heat sinking means that during testing, the amplifier never runs to more than warm no matter how hard we push it.
The build quality of these products is as good as the price point dictates. Both units feel utterly solid and the quality of the finish is second to none in our experience. That chrome on the 088 is immaculate and could easily double as a mirror.
What Hi-Fi? visited the service department at Burmester's factory a few years ago and many of the products there were decades old, yet physically at least, looked as good as new. The company can still service its earliest products, which is not something many rivals can boast. When hi-fi costs as much as these two do that’s a reassuring thing to know.
Any amplifier at this level positively demands top-quality sources and speakers. We use our reference Naim ND 555/555 PS DR music streamer and Technics' SL-1000R turntable along with our usual ATC SCM 50 speakers without issue.
We’ve been fortunate enough to use these amplifiers over a number of months now, and over that time they’ve been connected to pretty much every hi-fi source or pair of speakers that have made their way into our test room. We’ve never once felt disappointed with the job this pairing does.
They’re easily transparent enough to show the differences between Marantz’s CD6006UK and its budget rivals, revealing the subtle differences in dynamics and rhythmic drive as we switch between them. Yet, despite all that clarity, these Burmesters never go out of their way to emphasise any shortcomings. They keep it all in proportion, giving a proper balance between showing what’s good and revealing the bad.
Burmester 088 preamp
Inputs 6x balanced XLR
Outputs Balanced XLR
Dimensions (hwd) 10 x 48 x 35cm
Burmester 911 Mk3
Inputs Balanced XLR
Power output 180W per channel (8 ohms)
Dimensions (hwd) 22 x48 x 48cm
Weight 32 kg
Of course, feed the 088/911Mk 3 a signal from our reference sources and the quality of the sound improves accordingly. There’s now breath-taking detail when we listen to Arvo Part’s Tabula Rasa. The concert hall’s acoustics are captured convincingly, and with eyes closed, it’s easy to be transported to that venue. We can gauge the size of the hall and distance to the orchestra easily. This kind of experience only happens with a highly capable system.
We’re impressed by the amplifier’s stereo imaging on this recording. The Burmesters’ ability to generate huge scale is coupled to confidence-inspiring authority – every instrument is solidly planted in its position in the sound stage and remains locked in place no matter how demanding the piece gets. In our experience, few rivals can deliver such an open and expansive sound with such ease and refinement.
The way this amplifier handles dynamics is deeply impressive too. With such huge power reserves, it comes as no surprise that this pairing delivers large-scale crescendos with so much confidence. There’s no element of strain or the sound hardening up, even at high levels. But it’s during low-level dynamic shifts that the Burmesters pull ahead of similarly brawny rivals. Given a subtle variation in how a piano key is pressed, it’s these amplifiers that reveal those differences rather than ignore them.
This lightness of touch is equally apparent when we listen to Neneh Cherry’s Broken Politics. This is a recording packed sparse soundscapes and brimming with complex rhythm patterns. Cherry’s vocals are intimate, yet filled with passion. There’s a need for clarity and organisation if the recording is to work well, and that’s what these Burmesters provide. They sound delicate when required, revealing the subtleties that communicate emotion in Cherry’s voice with ease.
These pairing also times well, conveying the momentum of tracks such as Kong convincingly. This is an area where many high power rivals are particularly weak, tending to concentrate on outright detail or bass grip over the ability to make your feet tap to the rhythm. With the 088/911 Mk 3, you have it all.
Tonally, these products are smooth and refined. There’s just a hint of richness to the midrange, and that’s what prevents these amplifiers from sounding overly analytical despite the impressive amount of detail they resolve. That trait also helps to flesh out voices, and give them a touch of natural warmth that’s highly attractive. It’s not overdone though, and these Burmesters still manage to render instrument timbres in a convincing manner.
Play the highly charged version of Bruce Springsteen’s The Ghost Of Tom Joad from the High Hopes set and this pairing is happy to oblige. There’s plenty of bite here and the kind of bass that hits hard and true. We’re impressed by the pairing’s grip at low frequencies and the way it combines so much weight with agility.
Yet, listen past the punch and power and you’ll find class-leading resolution and the composure to sound in control no matter how wild the music gets. Springsteen legendary energy levels are communicated brilliantly and as the track finishes, we’re left invigorated.
There’s plenty of competition, even at this kind of price level. Yet, the 088/ 911 Mk 3 combines subtlety with strength better than most and wraps it all with a sophistication that most rivals don’t get close to.
Add exceptional build and class-leading service back-up into the equation and these amplifiers are easy to recommend. We like them so much that they’re our new reference. We can’t praise them more highly than that.
- Sound 5
- Features 5
- Build 5
Read all our Burmester reviews