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Reviewer: Jules Coleman
Sources: Analog - Brinkmann Balance Turntable/Brinkmann 10.5 Tonearm/Brinkmann EMT cartridge [for review]; Well-Tempered Reference/Well-Tempered Arm/ Roksan Shiraz cartridge; Shindo-Garrard 301/Shindo modified Ortofon 12" arm/Shindo modified Ortofon SPU classic cartridge
Digital: Exemplar/Denon DVD 2900 Universal player
Preamplifier: Shindo Catherine (dual mono, all tube full function with step-up transformer); Auditorium 23 step-up transformer for Denon 103
Amplifiers: Shindo WE 300B Ltd. monoblock; Cr Development Artemis Gold monoblock
Speakers: DeVore Fidelity Silverback Reference [for review]; Horning Agathon Ultimates
Cables: Stealth Indra, M-21 (female/female balanced for Shindo electronics); Shindo silver (female/female balanced); Audience Au24; Audience Au24 phono cable for EMT cartridge; Extreme Phono phono cable; Stealth Hybrid MLT speaker cable; Auditorium 23 speaker cable; Audience Au24 speaker cable; Stealth M-7, van den Hul Mainstream and Shunyata Python [on loan] power cords
Power Conditioner: BPT 3.5 Signature; Shindo Mr. T
Equipment Rack: Harmonic Resolution Systems M1R; HRS amplifier isolation bases
Room size: 30' w x 18' x 9'
Review Component Pricing: Brinkmann Balance Turntable $12,900; Brinkmann 10.5 Tonearm $3,500; Brinkmann-EMT MC cartridge $2,500; Brinkmann optional tubed power supply $2,700; Custom Harmonic Resolution System isolation base $2,220
|The Brinkmann Balance Turntable: Analog Extraordinaire
No point in beating around the bush. The Brinkmann Balance turntable, outfitted with the Brinkmann arm and Brinkmann/EMT cartridge, sitting majestically on the HRS isolation platform, constitutes a remarkable achievement. Indeed, no turntable in my experience approaches the Brinkmann Balance's combination of benchmark analog playback, precision engineering (at least comparable to that of SME) and stunning good looks. Its aesthetic is at once traditional and modern: strong and powerful, but soft and pliant to the touch elegant yet inviting. One would not be surprised to find the Brinkmann Balance displayed in a museum of industrial design. Easy to admire for its natural beauty and its exceptional engineering; easier still to appreciate for its wonderful way with music.
The Brinkmann Balance reproduces music in a way that is focused, detailed and highly resolving on the one hand, yet refined, nuanced and relaxing on the other. Listening to LPs on the Brinkmann is like reading a well-crafted short story or novel. In reading, you could, were you so inclined, pause to appreciate individual sentences, paragraphs or chapters. But you don't. Instead, you read on captivated by the movement of the work. Only when you have completed the story do you find yourself pausing to consider the elements of the writing, the construction of the plot, the unfolding of the work's themes, the arc of the characters.
And so it is with the Brinkmann Balance turntable. All the distinct musical elements are displayed and laid bare. Everything is revealed and in its place. Still, listening never invites one to pause and attend to the parts. Rather, to listen through the Brinkmann is to want to experience the whole of a work, to understand it as something organic and complete. There will be time aplenty after the fact to go back and parse the elements that comprise the whole. But that is not time to be taken away from listening.
The Brinkmann is that rarest of rare breeds in audio, a turntable for the lover of music who believes, as I do, that not only are musicality and high resolution not incompatible with one another, but that high resolution is a precondition of musicality.
The Brinkmann Balance
No Johnny-come-lately to turntable design, Helmut Brinkmann has been designing and building turntables for the better part of three decades. The current Brinkmann line-up includes two turntables (with a mid-price third on the way) as well as a full compliment of very handsome and well-reviewed electronics.
Brinkmann turntables include the Balance and the somewhat less expensive LaGrange. The LaGrange can be configured for one or two arms, which has made it something of a favorite among European reviewers. Reviewers at Hi-Fi+, Hi-Fi News & Record Review as well as my personal favorite, Germany's Image Hi-Fi, have not only showered the LaGrange with praise, they have bought their review samples and employ the Brinkmann as their personal reference. More importantly, the LaGrange is mentioned in the same class as the legendary Verdier tables.
Other than exhibiting an unmistakable family resemblance, sharing a common lineage and overall design philosophy, the La Grange and the Balance are entirely different tables. They share no parts although as complete packages, both can be fitted with the Brinkmann arm and Brinkmann modified EMT cartridge. The Balance is Helmut Brinkmann's statement turntable, and though it has been in production longer than has the LaGrange, this is the first time that it has been reviewed anywhere.
Both the LaGrange and the Balance fall into the general category of high mass, suspension-less designs. Others in this category include the Verdier, Yorke, Pluto and Walker tables, as well as the Redpoint Testa Rossa that I recently reviewed. Like these high mass designs, the Brinkmann favors metal over acrylic platters. Other high mass designs including Clearaudio, La Luce, Scheu and many Transrotors favor acrylic.
The Brinkmann employs the modular approach favored in suspension-less designs. Starting at the bottom and working up, the Balance rests on a unified chassis/plinth (base); the platter then sits atop the plinth; the arm pod in turn fits into the extended part of the chassis. This approach is widely adopted (by the likes of Nottingham, Scheu and Transrotor to mention but a few who have taken this route), but eschewed by others including Redpoint who opt for separate arm and motor pods. Separate pods allow for improved individual isolation. On the other hand, there are good reasons for wanting the arm and the platter to be moving in conjunction with one another.
The separate motor (pod) connects via an aluminum tube to a mini-pod on which the on/off/33/45rpm buttons are located. One merely has to touch, not suppress the buttons to get the player up and running or to change speeds. The mixture of high mass and powerful look combined with sensitivity to the lightest of touches is very appealing and very cool.
The Balance comes with a solid-state power supply that serves two functions: one familiar, the other unique to the Brinkmann. The supply powers the motor and heats the oil in the bearing well to a constant temperature. An extraordinarily beautiful tube power supply fitted with a clear tempered glass top that sits on a polished granite platform for heat dissipation is available as an option. When the Balance is fitted with both power supplies, the tube supply powers the motor that drives the platter, and the solid-state supply is relegated to heating up the oil in the bearing well.
|I did not employ the tube supply in my review, though I did have it on hand at the end of the review period. I did not have it in house long enough to get the kind of reading on its contribution to the sound that I would be comfortable reporting on. Still, I recommend purchasing the tube power supply option, whether or not you plan on using it. It is a work of art in its own right, and I would proudly display it as such whether or not it is called upon to serve in any other capacity. Did I mention that the Brinkmann Balance is a work of extraordinary beauty as well as precision engineering?
|Both the La Grange and Balance turntables feature a bearing oil heater for two reasons. First, the viscosity of oil, at a given temperature (ambient) produces drag (friction) on the bearing. When the temperature is raised and stabilizes (this occurs some three hours after the table is plugged in), the amount of drag will remain constant to eliminate speed fluctuations. Second, the bearing oil well/spindle housing is CNC machined from aluminum, and when the oil reaches a constant|
|temperature, that housing expands to meet the inside of the turntable platter (each are machined together and at the same time, to exacting tolerances) so that there might be no additional slippage. They thus become one then. Did I mention that the Brinkmann turntables are works of precision engineering as well as great beauty?
The plinth/chassis weighs 17.5 pounds and supports a 60-pound platter. The platter is made from an aluminum alloy containing lead and copper. The name of the game in audio is resonance control and broadband isolation. The aluminum/copper platter is designed to control vibrations and to turn mechanical energy into heat that is then dissipated.
An unusual crystal glass top the size of the typical LP sits atop the platter. The glass top serves two functions. The first is that it is easy to clean and so provides an even and clean surface for the records. The second, according to Brinkmann, is that crystal glass is a good coupler between the vinyl (plastic) of the record and the metal of the platter. I have no way of knowing whether this is true, and I was in no position to substitute a variety of mats for the glass top. I do know that the table sounded wonderful, and so it is quite clear that the glass top certainly was no obstacle to exceptional performance.
Records placed on a glass surface tend to slide around, and so a record clamp (not just a weight) is mandatory. Brinkmann provides a record clamp that is quite effective but takes a bit of getting used to. It needs to be screwed down just so any less and the LP is inadequately secure; any more and the outer edges of the LP begins to rise. It takes no time to get a feel for proper screw-down and the clamp is not only very effective but like everything else on the Brinkmann Balance, a visual and tactile treat. I did try my reference Harmonix record weight as an alternative to the supplied clamp, the latter proving far more effective.