Brinkmann Audio Bardo turntable Page 3
The Bardo-9.6-Pi produced superbly well-organized sound with clean, sharp attacks, reasonably strong sustain, and pronounced decay, all against a jet-black backdrop. The harmonic structures of instruments, while somewhat lean, were intact. Most Benz-Micro cartridges I've heard tend to sound somewhat polite and self-effacing on top; this combination's high-frequency production was anything but. Instead, it was well extended and slightly sharp in a pleasingly Teutonic way, if more pronounced than I likeat least in my system. The mids were smooth and clean, the bottom taut, well defined, and well extended: all in all, this was a good start for a "tight" front-end not yet broken in.
Raising the arm pillar about 5mm upped the SRA to a bit above 91°, which smoothed out the top end considerably and produced a more balanced sound that only improved as the Pi continued to break in. After that, as the suspension material settled over time, it was necessary to raise the pillar more to maintain 91°, or raise it to approximately 92°.
Digging into the essential reissue of The Nat King Cole Story (45rpm LPs, Capitol/Analogue Productions APP-SWCL 1613) brought nothing but pleasure: the warmish-sounding opening tracks had the proper mellow richness. (Though everything was rerecorded in stereo for this 1961 release, the earlier tunes were kept in the warm style of the mono originals, with minimal stereo separation.) Cole's creamy voice rides atop the sound of the somewhat softly recorded piano with the kind of clarity and definition that 1940s recordings couldn't produce. The Brinkmann combo did a very good job of capturing this, though it seemed a slight bit of edge remained on top that became more obvious as, in "Nature Boy," the producers maximized the stereo separation.
Switching to the equally remarkable Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Rodgers and Hart Song Book, Volume 1 (45rpm LPs, Verve/ORG 055), there was a bit more edge than I'd been used to from Fitzgerald's voice, and the huge kick-drum whomps in "You Took Advantage of Me," though deep, seemed robbed of the last bit of low-frequency extension and dynamic energy. Instrumental separation could have been more pronounced.
To get to the bottom of this, I made some 24-bit/96kHz recordings of the Fitzgerald, using my Alesis Masterlink hard-disk recorder as well as "Green Shirt," from Elvis Costello's Armed Forces (LP, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab), then took a deep breath and began mastering the setup of the considerably more expensive, more complex, more massive Kuzma 4Point tonearm ($6500, review to come) on the Bardo, with the Pi cartridge. I listened again to the same tracks, then recorded them, again at 24/96, so that I could do direct comparisons.
Verdict: The Bardo is orders of magnitude better than I would have believed had I used it only with Brinkmann's own 9.6 tonearm. That's not to say the 9.6 isn't a good arm at its price, or that the Bardo didn't sing and swing when connected to it, or that, in a less revealing system whose speakers and amp don't add up to $100,000, the Brinkmann combo wouldn't be among the best analog front-ends you can own for under $20,000. It's just that the costlier Kuzma 4Point is considerably better, and let the Bardo express itself more fully in every way.
With the Pi cartridge riding in the massive 4Point, the top end smoothed out considerably and was less pronounced without losing any air, transient speed, or high-frequency extension. Ella Fitzgerald's voice became more three-dimensional and nuanced and less bright, in part because the reverb better separated out into its own space instead of being submerged in the sound of her voice. The kick drum's energy produced a greater wallop and more satisfying whomp. More than that, the wind instruments in the right channel took on a richer, rounder harmonic sheen, while the piano in the left sported more wood and less cardboard. Images became more stable and solidand through the 9.6 they'd already been plenty good in that regard.
The Bardo's dynamic presentation was very, very good, but not completeand that's where some of the more massive and expensive turntables can beat it. But unless the rest of your system can express the full dynamic palette, you won't miss what the Bardo omits.
All that was left to do to really get the Bardo's number was to record the same Fitzgerald and Costello tunes with my reference Continuum Audio Labs Caliburn, Cobra, and Castellon turntable, tonearm, and standwhich together cost more than ten times the price of the Bardo-4Point combothen mount the Ortofon A90 cartridge in the 4Point on the Bardo and record them again. (Thanks to the digital USB microscope and an oscilloscope, I could be sure what I was hearing was not due to variations in setup, though with the 4Point's separate silicone damping systems for horizontal and vertical movement, you could vary the sound after the optimizing geometric setup.)
Here's what I found. The Bardo's speed control was, as expected, superb. If the direct-drive motor suffered from any rotational speed "jitter," it did so minimally. The Bardo's low-frequency extension and control were very, very good, and probably better than those of some more expensive belt drives in terms of low bass not creeping into the midbass, where it doesn't belong. Thin and/or malnourished in the bass the Bardo was not.
However, I suspect that the Bardo's bass wasn't as rich, deep, and weighty as that of Brinkmann's La Grange or, especially, Balance turntables. Some might argue that the Bardo gets all of what vinyl offers in the low frequenciesbut I wouldn't be one of them, particularly when I compared the Bardo-4PointA90 to the Caliburn-Cobra-A90. Where the far more expensive Continuum rig goes deeply and transparently into the recesses of recordingsa function of both micro- and macrodynamic range that I heard with the first LP I played on it almost six years agothe Bardo stopped just as it entered the darkness.
However, you pay a lot to go that extra distanceas you do going from the Bardo to the Balance, which, as I remember (I was about to buy a Balance when the Continuum came along), gets you way into the depths of what's in the grooves of your favorite recordings. The Bardo, at a much lower price, does not. On the other hand, I know a few analog devotees who find the Balance's sound "polite," even boring. They're misguided, in my opinion, but they might be thrilled by the Bardo, regardless of prices.
With the Ortofon A90 in the Kuzma 4Point playing MoFi's stupendous reissue of Dead Can Dance's Into the Labyrinth (LP, 4AD/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab 2-001), or España from Ernst Ansermet and the Suisse Romande Orchestra (LP, ORG 014), or The Nat King Cole Story, the Bardo addressed with great precision every aspect of analog playback and left little to be desired. Its minor errors were those of omission, as previously described.
As a plug'n'play record-playing system costing just over $16,000, Brinkmann Audio's Bardo turntable, 9.6 tonearm, and Pi cartridge have a value greater than the sum of their parts. If you're new to analog and can afford to spend this much, but don't want to get too heavily involved in setup and/or have to buy a boxful of setup tools, you can't go wrong with this combination. Even a novice with a digital stylus gauge can probably unbox it, set it up, and be playing LPs within an hour.
The Bardo is beautifully made, smartly designed (I think the high-mass platter and low-torque motor are key to its performance), looks elegant, and has no outboard motor and belt to potchky with. Out of the box, it's plenty goodand once you're hooked, you can make it even better. At $9490 with glass and stainless-steel mat and record clamp, the Brinkmann Bardo is a contender for the best turntable under $10,000, and probably should be auditioned by anyone looking for a turntable costing $15,000, or even more. It sounds that good, and its build quality and fit'n'finish are worthy of 'tables costing far more.
And if you're an experienced analog hand with $10,000 to invest and a prejudice against direct-drive turntables, you should definitely hear the Brinkmann Bardo before plunking down your money for anything else.